It’s not just for people who failed math.
(It can save lives!)
Where do we need stories?
• Website content
• Marketing in magazines, newspapers and books
• Fundraising appeals
• Stewardship, newsletters, email news and updates
Each of these has a different
• Magazine articles are longer stories
• Web stories need lots of white space
• Fundraisers are surrounded by “ask” language
• Stewardship may be filled with “thanks” language
But within all of them is a story.
One animal is more memorable than 1,000
Last week, 1,328 cats were admitted; 423 of them had
FIV, while 219 had feline leukemia. A total of 146 were
Muffin arrived last week with FIV and feline leukemia, and
without a friend in the world. But today, he’s been adopted
into a happy home. In fact, he’s just one of 1,328 cats whose
lives we saved, thanks to you, in the past seven days.
The pyramid technique
Grab them with one animal:
After he was hit by a car, Sebastian came to our vet clinic for
healing, and now he’s prancing into a new home.
Then mention more animals that you help:
In fact, he’s just one of 243 animals with life-threatening injuries
who counted on us last year.
Then talk about the rest of the animals you help:
And of course, we also run a comprehensive spay/neuter program
that’s helping to save thousands of lives. One Sebastian at a time.
(Bring it full circle, back to one animal.)
Another look at the pyramid
• Emma is one of 350 animals … (narrow wedge)
• The firetruck had been set alight by a disgruntled …
• Our group conducts rescues like this regularly …
• And that’s just one small part of the work we’re
able to do with your support. We also run
spay/neuter programs … (base of the pyramid)
What if I don’t rescue animals?
If your work touches the lives of
animals, you have a story. Find that cat who
had litter after litter after litter of kittens
and was nearly dying from it — until your
trap/neuter/return program spayed her so
she could have her life back.
Why tell stories of our success?
Why not tell the painful stories?
• Because you want people to open your mail and read
• Because you want to emphasize that you are making
things better. (Everyone wants to join a winning team.)
• Because depression immobilizes people.
suffering, and we’re
should be, too.
Animals are being
helped, and we feel
GREAT. Join us!
But what about the sad parts?
It’s fine to include them, but not
Bambi was hit on the head, run over by a
car, and then left in a dumpster. People
do that kind of thing all the time around
here, and it’s only getting worse! Join us
to help stop it.
Same facts, different emphasis:
Bambi must think he’s woken up in heaven!
He was run over, hit on the head, and left in a
But then something miraculous happened.
You. You brought him back from the brink by
being a part of this organization. Today, he’s
alive, snuggled up in a blanket, and having his
little chin rubbed. He’s going to be just fine.
There are more Bambis out there. More
animals who think it’s all over. And
together, we’ll continue to help them.
But what if I don’t know any stories?
Then you have to ask.
Don’t let the stories focus inward
on the organization
These are not good topics for stories:
• The animal that we would like to see adopted
• An animal a staff member adopted
• The new executive coordinating director of
Keep the focus outward and on animals
This is not really a story about
One night, our volunteer
coordinator, Jackie, was driving into
town when she noticed a bundle of
fur on the road. She hit her brakes
and discovered it was a shivering
black cat! She wasted no time getting
a blanket from her truck …
It’s a story about a volunteer
coordinator named Jackie.
This is a story about an animal:
One night, Malcolm the cat was
shivering by the side of the road.
He had just been hit by a car and
couldn’t move! But then, there were
headlights coming toward him, and a
truck pulled up. Before he knew
it, he was wrapped in a blanket and
on his way to the safety of our
Dump the details
Nobody needs to know that it was actually a friend of his
grandmother’s who dropped off the dog because he had
work that day and his grandmother had promised to bring
the dog in, but then she had a health issue and couldn’t
make it at the last minute, but her friend, who also rescues
basset hounds, by the way, said that she would bring the dog
just as soon as she drove the grandmother from the hospital
(and the grandson could pick her up after his shift).
Just tell us that the dog arrived!
Every sentence should do one of the following:
• Move the major plot forward
• Make the story more compelling
• Connect the story to what’s good about our
organization and/or why you should be a
part of it
The rest can be left out.
Your chosen animal is the hero of your story! Develop his
or her character.
Remember to SHOW — don’t TELL. Don’t describe him
with adjectives. Describe him with actions he took.
We never start a novel with “Maximus was very brave and
rather nonchalant.” We say, “Maximus lounged casually on
the deck of his pirate ship, petting a crocodile as lightning
struck his ship’s mast.”
Create an emotional image of your organization
Joey didn’t just come to your state-of-the-art
clinic, which performed 50,268 emergency
surgeries last fall. (Nobody will remember that
Your clinic is also a place of healing: a building
filled with bright light, like a beacon of hope to
animals suffering with injuries in the darkness.
People remember the “feel” of your organization
better than they remember the facts (though it’s
fine to include them).
are building a
every word you
Once you have a good crowd of
supporters, ask this question:
Who does the average supporter
have a relationship with?
• Speak in a language the reader
• Be the same person every time
• You must have a writing voice.
Speak in a language they can understand:
• Not everyone speaks “rescuese”
• Not everyone speaks “corporatese”
Speak in plain English.
Re-sensitize yourself to your language!
When we haven’t heard a jargon word before, we’re
more sensitive to its more usual associations.
• What do we usually associate with “transport”?
• What do we usually associate with “intake”?
Similarly, re-sensitize yourself to the cuteness of
animals, and to the awesomeness of your work.
More on sensitivity
• Poor writers think only in terms of what
they would like to communicate.
• Good writers can feel the heartbeat of
the reader on the other end as they
write. They’re aware of how they
“sound” to that person.
Don’t use corporate dialect
“Corporatese” is not an emotionally sensitive dialect. To
people outside the corporate world, it seems impolite.
• Casual: Could you c’mere for a sec?
• Formal: I’m so sorry. May I borrow you for a moment?
• Corporate: Your attention is mandatory. No exceptions can
be made at this time. Thank you for your cooperation.
• You don’t have to have just one writer, but you should
have just one voice or image. Writing is like acting: More
than one person can play the same role. But all should
embody the feeling and soul of the organization when
• Don’t let someone send “just one” little brand-destroying
email for the sake of a short-term goal.
• Don’t write by committee. There needs to be a narrator.
Your narrator: An inseparable part of your brand
What’s a brand?
It’s just a way of saying your “image” or
You want to have a consistent, positive
image. That way, when people hear
your name (including times when
you’re asking for money), they’ll
think, “Yes! I like that group!”
What’s a narrator?
A narrator is the invisible, unidentified
character who is telling the story, and
whispering in readers’ ears.
Part of people’s automatic association with
your brand is the voice of that narrator.
So make sure that there is a narrator!
This story has no narrator:
In conjunction with XYZ-M42 rescue group of the 2nd
precinct of the 46th district of Narcoleptic County, in
cooperation with and in compliance with Bill
46019, our rescue group assisted 20+ animals. Among
them was a shepherd mix, a pit/lab/rottie mix, 12
cats, some gray, some Siamese mixes with black
and/or gray markings, some orange tabbies.
Having a writing voice means that
I can hear your writing, not just see it
• You are a voice in my head, and that’s the only
way to get under my skin.
• To make me take action (come to an
event, volunteer, give money, adopt an
animal, etc.), you need to get under my skin.
• For me to feel that I know you (you, as an
organization), I need to have the sense that a
real person is speaking to me.
Use punctuation to change
the melody and rhythm
• Sammie thought he didn’t have a friend in
this world until he came here.
• Sammie thought he didn’t have a friend in
this world. Until he came here.
• Sammie thought he didn’t have a friend in
this world, until … he came here.
Chelsea came to our rescue center because
some jerk dropped her off at our doorstep.
We are so sick of people like that.
Keep future fundraising in mind. Is this
somebody I’d give a million dollars to?
Sarah arrived in desperate need of medicine and a
hug. The poor thing was shivering in fear and
covered with fleas. Fleas are wingless external
parasites whose bodies are laterally compressed.
Here, the narrator has changed partway
through, so I no longer believe someone is talking
to me. (May have been written by committee.)
Nobody likes a show-off! The trick is to
brag without taking the credit. Thank
everyone else but yourself. (Your staff is
you, so don’t thank your staff.)
In summary …
• In many cases, find a single animal to be the
focus of your story.
• Find your inner narrator and use your voice.
• Be sensitive to your reader — watch your
• Remember that every piece you write is both a
marketing and a fundraising story.
Remember your image
• Position your brand as you go along. As you tell your
story and describe your work, make it clear what’s
special about you, what makes you different.
• Your narrator should know your brand
intuitively, without having to stop and think about it.
Remember your theme
The animal’s story is the plot, but the theme is the reason
that you’re telling it.
After someone reads the story, do you want that person to
donate, consider adopting an animal, become a volunteer, get on your
mailing list, or simply have a more positive impression of your
Think about the theme constantly as you write. Ask yourself: Does this
sentence add to that theme? How about this one? Keep the question
on one side of your brain while the other side tells the story.
Sit down at the keyboard with an attitude
If you’re not having fun, neither is the reader!
Writer’s block? What’s that? How come nobody
ever gets talker’s block? You should be able to
write as fast as you can type.
Start with an INTENT: “This is going to move
people.” Feel it in your veins.