AtoZ Challenge: G is for Gather Stories — Janet Cobb Consulting

Once upon a time…just the other day…you won’t believe what happened…you see, what happened was…

We’re all familiar with the first line of a good story. Our bodies lean in, we focus our attention, and we follow along eager to hear what’s next and how the story will end.

A story has the power to captivate an audience. But more importantly, a story has the power to ignite an emotion.

The question is, in our role as fundraisers, what emotion are we trying to ignite?

Some might say sympathy.” We want people to feel sorry for someone in need. But sympathy often makes us feel separate and apart from the one in need. We would do better to spark empathy. When we empathize, we relate to the need, the pain, the problem as if it were our own — and therefore, we’re more likely to give in response.

But are these our only two choices? Sympathy or empathy? These aren’t even emotions.

Sadness. Joy. Anger. Hope. Fear. Courage.

A good story, like a good novel or movie, takes me through a range of emotions. What emotions does your story evoke? What does it make me feel and how does it motivate me to act?

I’m personally more motivated by anger and hope than by sadness. If I hear a story of injustice, I get angry and want to fight the injustice.

If you’re raising money for the arts — have you inspired me, made me feel anything? Have you reminded me how the art makes me feel? Joy? Transcendent? Uplifted?

If you’re raising money for a historical society or land preservation project — what do you want me to feel? Pride? Nostalgia? Desire to leave a legacy?

Sending me pictures of sad, pain-filled stories of trauma doesn’t do it. If I’m not able to find hope in the situation or understand how my donation is going to lead to a resolution, you’ve lost me.

When you gather stories, keep asking yourself — what emotions does this evoke, and what call to action does it inspire?

And don’t forget that your stories can be from and about all kinds of folx. Ask your board members, volunteers, staff, former program participants (especially those removed from a problem your organization helped them with in the past), community members, and donors why the organization is important to them. Ask them for anecdotes from their experience that speak to the core values, philosophy, mission, or vision of your organization.

By creating a series of stories that offer insight into why your mission exists and what you hope to accomplish, you are helping your audience of potential donors be drawn into a narrative larger and more powerful than themselves-captivating your audience and drawing them in, eager to know how the story will ultimately end.

Originally published at on February 15, 2021.