Emotional decision making, Stories to Avoid, and Stories to Tell

The elusive story.

How can you tell the best version of your organization’s story?

The version that hooks potential donors, drives engagement with volunteers, spreads awareness, and brings in donations from old and new members to the cause.

The story that becomes the champion of the success of your organization.

(sounds easy, no pressure)

How are you supposed to figure out what story can do any of that, let alone all of it?

Unfortunately, there aren’t any surefire “tricks.” But there are ways to improve your odds of picking the best stories and the best ways to tell them.

And before we get into all that, we need to talk about feelings. You have an emotional audience!

Why Am I So Emotional?

Not intentionally quoting Sam Smith here, I’m just telling you what you already know–people are emotional (ok, I was quoting Sam Smith there. Guilty pleasure).

As humans, we’re more than just emotional sometimes–emotions are inextricably tied to most of what we consciously do!

Our emotions even impact some subconscious functions: digestion, breathing, sleep…When we’re sad or nervous or afraid, we might lose our appetite or feel short of breath–think about your body’s reaction when you have to give a big speech. If you tried to eat right before the nerves kicked in, you mind end up with a stomach ache–that’s your body divesting resources normally used in digestion to address your powerful fear response (for even more on this topic, check out The Mind-Gut Connection by Emeran Mayer).

The point is, emotions show up everywhere–and they’re driving your donors’ decisions to donate and engage with you, too.

What Do Emotions Have to Do With “Rational” Decisions?

As we alluded to before, the answer is: “a lot.”

It turns out, people can’t really make purely “rational” decisions (by rational, we mean emotion free, 100% logic-based, measured, objective, and reasonable).

Emotions always play a part.

It makes sense, if you think about it–if we were rational decision makers, we wouldn’t have the angry Starbucks customer chewing out their baristas over an order mistake. Antagonizing the person in charge of your coffee isn’t the rational decision (but it is a good way to get decaf-ed, apparently).

Examples are everywhere. Economic theories and predictions might be more accurate if we were rational decision makers. There’d be less adultery, fewer murders, WaterGate wouldn’t have happened, etc. etc. etc.

It’s not just delinquent behavior that involves emotion. For example, if you’re going to Penn Station and see only one door being used by other people for entry, you’re likely to get in line to use that door. If you’re aware that you’re doing it, your “rational” thought process might conclude that something is wrong with the other doors. Even though the other doors are perfectly fine, you assume they’re not (usually subconsciously) because no one else is using those doors.

Humans want to participate in a collective, for better or worse!

I’m Not Irrational–You’re Irrational! But What Does Rationality Have to Do with Donations?

So far you might be thinking “this is a whole lot about emotions and not getting me any closer to a good story.”

You’re right.

Here’s the tie-in for you:

When you’re selling to humans, you need to know what makes them tick (if you want to be successful, anyway).

And when you’re pitching your cause, you’re essentially selling your audience on the idea that your organization is worth their time and money.

Research suggests that different emotions will influence how people interact with something.

Someone having a bad day might see someone else’s mistake as a personal slight.

Fear can make people perceive greater risk in the world. Anger can make people opt for harsher punishments against criminals and terrorists.

There’s a reason you waited for the right time to ask your parents for a BB gun, and a reason your (future or current) children will wait to ask you to buy them a new video game–and it’s all about mood.

The mood we’re in influences our behavior and impacts our decisions. That includes people’s decisions to donate.

Your video is an opportunity to set the stage for giving by creating the right emotional connection. You can do this by picking the right story, and telling that story the right way.

Let’s get the wrong stories out of the way before we focus on stories more likely to work.

What Stories Should Your Nonprofit Avoid?

Avoid boring stories.

The story of your organization might look like a good video subject on paper…but don’t fall for that trap.

The story of your organization might be interesting–but it probably isn’t the most compelling choice.

Does your organization’s story have driving action? An engaging plot? Does your organization’s history truly have the power to keep viewers on the edge of their seats with bated breath?

Likely not.

If you shouldn’t focus on your history, can you talk about what you do?

This is another idea that seems good on paper–when you let everyone know about all of these incredible things you’re doing, surely they’ll donate!

Again, likely not.

In this case, more isn’t merrier.

By trying to include everything you do, you end up with a laundry list crammed into the video. When you cram, you actually dilute your message. People don’t donate to support laundry lists–even if the laundry list is full of incredible activism initiatives.

It’s worth picking the top one or two things your organization does and focusing on those.

Even though your history and everything you do seem like logical topics for your nonprofit video, you should avoid making the video about your organization or its history. Which…seems super backward, since we’re talking about telling your story…but stick with us.

Let’s talk about what you should focus on–the stories your nonprofit should tell about itself and its impact.

What Stories Should Your Nonprofit Tell?

Instead of listing everything you do or telling the story of how you got started, focus on outcomes.

How does your organization want the future to look? What would the world look like if your organization was 100% successful in its mission?

By showing the impacts and theories behind what you’re doing, you invite people into the fold. It becomes about the world your donors can help you build–not the nonprofit that your founders started 30 years ago.

That isn’t your only story option, though.

You can tell the stories of those you’ve helped. Or, better yet, let them tell their own stories of how their lives have improved (trees and wildlife can’t talk, but that doesn’t mean you can’t show change visually).

Instead of talking about how much money you’ve raised or how many hours of time you’ve invested into something, let the aid recipients describe how their lives have changed for the better with your organization’s help (and the help of previous donors).

And we’ll recommend a third story option:

Tell the story of the suffering.

Many times, people are oblivious to some of the madness happening in our world. A strong awareness video can tell the story that viewers aren’t seeing. The Most Shocking Second a Day and its follow up video powerfully rip the wool from the world’s eyes about the Syrian refugee crisis.

Your viewers can connect emotionally with the impact of what you do. They can connect emotionally with the victory stories from people you’ve helped. And they can connect emotionally with suffering. And these stories don’t just connect with people–they can inspire them!

Let’s look at an example of an organization telling their story in a way that successfully makes it about the donor while also describing their impact.

Why Water – Learn about the water crisis and how you can help

This video (one of many from Charity:Water) opens by making it about their viewer: “What was the first thing you did when you woke up this morning? Chances are, you used water.”

Then it pulls the donor into the lives of the people Charity:Water is trying to help: “Try to imagine life without water. It’s tough, we know. But for lots of people, life without clean water is just life. It’s normal.”

As you’ll see, the video goes on to describe the water crisis in more detail, in a way that will linger with the viewer. They use “sticky” facts (like dirty water killing more people than wars).

Then the impact hits: ”The water crisis is solvable. Our planet has water, we just need to help people get it. When we do, it brings all kinds of changes…clean water changes just about everything.”

At the 1:20 mark, the video has already:
Pulled the viewer in
Put the viewer in the shoes of people the org is trying to help
Explained the gravity of the crisis
Shown there’s a solution

And at 1:20, the video introduces a clear call to action.

A Quick Note on Calls to Action

A clear call to action is so important. Without it, people won’t know what to do. Be explicit when you’re asking for help. Make it as easy as possible for people to help–any roadblocks (whether your fault or not) could deter donations.

Sticking with our Charity:Water example, the video says: “We’re asking you to give. Give a little, give a lot, give everything you’ve got.” They close the video with their website, where viewers can go to give.

Calls to action are included everywhere (sign up today, call now, checkout, etc.), because they work better than leaving people to figure out what to do on their own. Help them help you help the world!

What does a clear request look like? It’ll depend on what you want your audience to do, but it should be simple. Something like:
Donate today
Volunteer your time
Spread the word
There are other ways to say these things, just be clear and candid with your viewer.

A Little Bonus
If you watched the video, you probably noticed that Charity:Water actually addresses potential viewer objections after this call to action. They say every single penny goes to the field, separating themselves from other charities and enticing past donors spurned by other orgs to try again and actually do some good.

This is a strong play on their part. Anticipating potential donor objections and addressing them up front means a smoother path to donations.

Telling the Best Story

Picking a story for a video can be a daunting task. Just remember to focus on your impact, the change you want to bring out, and your donors. Your best story can’t be told without them.

And, if you’d like some help, we at Epic Dog Studios would love to chat. We’re diving into the world of crafting nonprofit videos, and we’d love to help you.

Drop us a line below and we can talk about your next project–it’s totally free to chat! (a clear call to action–teaching moment amidst shameless self promotion!)

Elliott Regan

Elliott Regan

Blog Writer Extraordinaire

Plain ol’ Elliott Regan is a psychology fan, a writing man, and a member of a rock n’ roll ban…d. A triple threat in the loosest sense of the phrase, he likes to write about what makes people tick and what makes their screens flick. Apparently, he has a thing for rhymes. He’s ghosted pieces for a best-selling author whose byline appears in top-tier publications–but that’s a story he’ll only tell ‘round the campfire…

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