Is there a more overused word than ‘narrative’ these days?  I’ve tried to remove it from my vocabulary.  Story is simpler anyway.

So much of fundraising has no story.  This isn’t conjecture.  We’ve scored hundreds of pieces of copy and the Story Score (per Copy Optimizer) is dreadful and most often it’s not because the story is not told well, it’s that there isn’t a story at all.

Why?  We live on the front lines like most of you and agree and understand that sourcing a real story from a real person is easier said than done.  We’ve taken to conducting our own interviews with beneficiaries as standard operating procedure.

It’s as real as real gets or to use another grossly overused word, authentic.

The point of this post is to note that every organization has at least a story.  Probably more.  And often it takes only the tiniest bit of effort to find it.

This story snippet is for a food bank.  The control had no story.  Zero.  It was all need and ask and a few descriptive sentences that the writer probably thought constituted a story but was all tell, no show.

This took me five minutes to find on this food banks blog.  It took another 20 minutes to write it and link it up with a transition sentence that brings the reader to the ask.  This is seven mostly short sentences and a half hour of work.

The Story Score for this snippet is 100 out of 100.  I cite that not to have folks tell me how to make it better (but feel free).  It can always be better with more time and more material.  But, it’s good enough and most important, much better than the control.  And the better judgement is empirical, not opinion per the Copy Optimizer.

He fought in Korea, for you and me and our way of life. He suffered a lot, worked odd jobs after the war but never really got his life back.  But he’d never complain.

He’s 80 now, living in the same house he grew up in with his sister, Julia. She looks after him nowadays, as best she can. She has been so grateful for those senior boxes, the ones they offer at her senior center.  She gets him one a month, it’s enough for 25 meals.

I cite this example for two reasons,

  • A story always exists and it needn’t be chapter and verse.
  • Lead with it.  This is how the test letter (which beat the control) starts.  Always start with story.  It’s our best hope at getting mental attention and drawing the reader in.