Life and Mission

What to do When the Stories Aren't Pretty

November 15, 2022 Kay Helm Season 3 Episode 78
Life and Mission
What to do When the Stories Aren't Pretty
Show Notes Transcript

When things don't turn out as planned, a well-told setback story can give donors another reason to support you. 

Here are some of the stories you can tell around a setback:

  • Explain the process of change your beneficiaries go through.
  • Focus on one aspect of the change process and help supporters understand why it's such a hurdle.
  • Share a story about the setting that causes difficulties in the change process.
  • Feature something in your work that deals specifically with one of those hurdles.

When you tell stories like this, you show that you're the expert. You're giving donors one more reason to trust you to tackle this problem.



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  • Learn the exact stories that every ministry, missionary, and nonprofit needs to tell.
  • Master the fundraising story calendar.
  • Develop and practice essential storytelling skills to increase funding for your mission.
  • Build your story library and your confidence.

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Kay  0:00  
I'm Kay Helm. And this is the Life and Mission podcast. And today, we're going to talk about when the story you're trying to tell doesn't quite turn out the way you hoped it would. 

Kay  0:10  
Ah, the transformation story. Someone was hurting, things were wrong, then your donors stepped up and your organization was able to do truly life changing work. Things changed, things were going good. You had pictures, and you told this story, and you did maybe a video and you shared it all around. That's powerful. We love those stories, our donors love to get those success stories, keep telling those. 

Kay  0:40  
But you know, it's not always that clear. It's not always a big win. And sometimes even these great stories that we've told, maybe we come back later, or we're continuing to work with somebody and things change, and it's not so good anymore. People go back to, to the old ways, or some force from the outside changes a situation and undoes the good that you did. And it's heartbreaking. 

Kay  1:12  
I want to encourage you today to not shy away from telling those types of stories. Now, you want to have a little finesse with this, you want to be very careful that you don't take somebody maybe you shared a success story about a person, right? We'd love to, to see stories about individuals whose lives have been changed. But when it all comes crashing down, you don't want to swing the spotlight over on that and go "well, then look what happened." You know, that's not you wouldn't want somebody to do that to you. So don't do it to your beneficiaries. 

Kay  1:45  
How do you grapple with this on the storytelling basis with your donors? How do you share these types of setbacks, whether it's with an individual or a program, or a circumstance that changes? How do you deal with that in your nonprofit storytelling? Sometimes we don't even know did the intervention really work? Did it did it stick because maybe we're working in different places and, or when you're in a traveling team, right? You're going from country to country to country and for our ministry, sometimes it takes a year or two before we get really good feedback on how the things are working. And you have to commit to those long tail type of stories. 

Kay  2:27  
I believe some of our internal conflict over these types of stories comes from our fear of giving donors a not-so-perfect picture of our mission, or our ministry or the way that we do things. And we think that if we share a failure, or if we share a setback, because a lot of times these are just setbacks, that that they're not going to want to support us anymore. They're gonna go Oh, see ya, you don't really know what you're doing or all that, like, we we have these conversations in our heads, like where we try out sharing a story with somebody, and then we get this really harsh reaction. Maybe you've been bitten before, I think probably all of us have been have kind of had some backlash for something. If you're involved in nonprofit or ministry, I guarantee you if you haven't had something you will at some point. So rip off the band aid. And let's go ahead and do it. 

Kay  3:19  
Let's look at how you can tell stories like you don't have to frame it. Like don't try to fit a "this didn't work like we thought it would" story into the same format that you would a transformation story. You know, transformation stories, are like, "here's the before, here's the thing we did. And here's the after." That's a very simple story, story structure. So with the setback story, I don't want to call it a failure story. It's not a failure story unless you just don't learn from it. So it's a setback story, okay, for a set backstory, the pattern is, "here's where we started, here's what we tried. And here's what happened. And here's what we're going to try next." Or "here's what we're thinking," or, here's, "here's the unexpected thing." 

Kay  4:10  
What you're actually doing is you're inviting your donors into some of your processes. So you you bring them into, not just know he happened to be happened, see happened, where they're a passive observer, but you're pulling back the curtain for them. And you're saying these are our thought processes to why we do things the way we do. So it's a great way even when things are going really well actually, you can tell these types of stories. And you can say, you know, we have this whole thing that we do, and we learned it, because now we kept running into this you just fill in the blanks use those phrases, and you can string together a story base on things you've bumped into. I mean, that's what a book is right? The main character sets off on a journey. And then they bump into this, they hit this wall, they hit that wall, something else trips them up. I mean, and people keep reading. It's very interesting. These stories will help draw people into what you're doing. But you know, think about your program, think about where the stumbles happen, where do you have struggles, what are hurdles that your beneficiaries have to get over, or get past obstacles that they will face on their journey, and you could actually do a story on each of these obstacles. 

Kay  5:45  
So if you're looking for story ideas, look at the rough spots that people have to get through. And you can feature somebody who did it successfully, you could feature somebody that maybe now they're having success, but in the past, they really struggled, or they they stumbled at that spot several times. That's another way to tell the story. Or you can tell it in a more general way and say, you know, folks that are going through this will typically struggle in a mighty way when they get to this heart. And you know, in your ministry, this is a great opportunity to target prayer, you say, Hey, I'm going to tell you the story of, of where people struggle in this journey. And I would love for you guys to target your prayer, and to begin to really pray about that area of these folks lives. So that we want to see break through in their lives in this particular area, because it's a huge roadblock to the journey that they're on. And so if you begin to think of these stories, as you know, we talked about the hero's journey, and it was think of these this journey along the way, where are the stopping points? Where are the points where people get stuck? Where are the points where people make a U turn? Where are the points where they get off track? Where are the points where we got off track, where the points where we had to change what we were doing and not tell the story of, of why we had to make that change. And and you can educate your donors in the process on why you do things the way you do. 

Kay  7:23  
Remember, we started with that fear of maybe people will think I don't know what I'm doing. Now, you're going to flip that around, and you're going to show people by pulling back that curtain, and you're going to show them what an expert you are, you're going to say you know what we understand, these are the challenges. This is hard work that we're doing. Thank you so much for being a part of it. Here. This is why we do this this way. And you're proving to them that you really are the right one to support in this work. So don't be afraid of these types of stories. 

Kay  7:55  
So just a couple of ideas have already mentioned some of this explain the process of change that your beneficiaries go through or explain the process, why you do what you do. Another idea is to focus on one aspect of the change process and help supporters understand why it's such a hurdle. See how we're not spotlighting an individual, you might be thinking about a particular story, but you can speak in general terms about how people will struggle with this or, or things like that. share a story about the setting that you're in, that causes difficulties in the change process. You can feature something in your work that deals specifically with one of those hurdles. So one aspect of what you do. Those are ideas, if you will look at those hard places. You can mine those for story ideas. 

Kay  8:46  
And when you're fundraising, the idea of a story that's not yet finished. A story that needs the donor to take part before the story can be finished. is great for your appeal letters. These are great, you can use them for education now when you're actually asking, educate kind of between your asks not at the in the appeal, but you can tell an unfinished story in your appeal. Those are great for appeals. When you tell stories like this, again, you are reinforcing the fact that you're an expert and that you are worth supporting like you're the one like people will go you know what they're honest about what they're dealing with. I love the way they're tackling this issue. They really helped me understand it. I mean, when your donors are saying those things, they're they're, they're drawing closer to you. That's what you want. You want to build relationships. How do we build relationships, we share things with our friends, we don't just share the happy things like on Instagram, right? Your real friends know what you're really like. They saw your messy room, they they saw it and it's okay. And we're not I'm not saying air all your organization's stuff. I'm just saying

Kay  10:00  
Don't be afraid of hard stories. Okay, I hope this encourages you. Hey, go out and get on this November it's time to be telling stories. So you need to get some stories out there. December is the big ask. So we'll see you next time. This is the life and mission podcast I'm Kay Helm. Find your voice tell your story. Change the World. 

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