Addendum to "Karen's Fundraising Tips" Newsletter, May 2006 Issue

Thank you for following the link from my newsletter to this example.   This illustrates drilling down to the heart of the story in an interview.  I've taken a story from a non-profit direct mail piece (I received this in the mail last month), and then I list possible questions to reveal much more.  Finally I share a "revised" version of the story.

What follows next is the complete original story from an actual direct mail letter.  All we are told is found in the italicized headline plus an opening sentence in the body:

"It's our tradition," Mr. Noj said, "not to leave anyone behind."

With those brave words, Mr. Noj began the third day of digging through a Guatemalan mudslide for the body of his niece Ana - a search that would end only when the little girl was found, even if it took forever.

Is there anything else you'd like to know about that story?  What are the first one or two questions that pop into your head?

For me it was, "How old is Ana?"  Also, "Is she the only member of the family missing?  If so, what was she doing that had her separated from everyone else?" 

What are some details we can add for greater impact on the reader - your potential donor?  Of course, discretion and tact are essential when talking to someone so close to a tragedy.  Often many of the facts can and would be discovered from someone less impacted by the catastrophe. Recognizing that, consider questions like these:

[About Ana]  How old is Ana?
  • Is she your brother's daughter or your sister's?
  • What does Ana like to do?  What are her favorite pastimes?
  • What do you enjoy most about spending time with Ana?
  • I'd love to hear more about [insert what you learned from previous question].  What makes that special above all else?
  • By chance do you have a picture of Ana?  (If not, try to get Mr. Noj to describe her  to you.)
  • Does she have any brothers or sisters?  Are they okay?
[Mr. Noj and his experience]  Have you gotten any sleep in the last three days?  (Recall Mr. Noj has been searching for three days.)
  • What do you keep thinking about?  What's on your mind? (Want to discover if he's picturing Ana in his mind and what the image is: bright smile; sparkling eyes; the big hugs she gave everyone; etc.)
  • Have you had anything to eat? (Not only trying to discover if he is so racked with grief he has no appetite; but how much food is even available.)
  • Do you or anyone in your family have a place to sleep?  Shelter of any kind?
  • Are there any doctors or nurses to help those who've been hurt?
[More about Ana and what happened]  Was Ana at home, at school, or somewhere else when the mudslide hit?
  • Anyone else from your family missing?
  • How did you escape?
  • I can't imagine what you're going through.  Wondering why you survived and so many others were not so fortunate.  Can you possible share with me how you're feeling?  Can you put it into words?
  • How many more people are "lost" in the mudslide?
  • Sounds like the whole village was nearly wiped out.  Is that true?
[The village]  Tell me a little more about the village where you live.
  • Is it on a mountainside carved out of the jungle?
  • Are you in a valley?
  • About how many people live in your village?
  • How do they make a living (farmers, or what)?
  • About how much do they live on each month ($50; $100)?
  • What are your homes like?  Where exactly did Ana live?
[Return to the event and what Mr. Noj is doing]  Did the mudslide hit at night when people were sleeping or during the day?
  • How much warning did everyone have?
  • Are mudslides common, or was there something very unusual that caused this tragedy?
  • How big was this mudslide?  (If half the hillside collapsed - enough tons of earth and water to fill three Superdomes, for example - we can illustrate the incredibly sad hopelessness of his digging.)
  • What tools are available for digging?  Is he using a hand shovel or his bare hands?  Any motorized equipment available to help?

Notice after each primary question there are four or more drill down questions.   And see how I varied fact probing with emotion-seeking questions.  Plus, to make it easier for the interviewee I change tactics back and forth: Ana; Mr. Noj and the event; back to Ana with other related questions; the village; and back to the event.

Do you see how these additional details and facts can add tremendous depth to a story?  Wow.  What a moving story left untold.

The original story gently plucked our heart strings.  However, it has the potential to give a mighty tug.  That's significant!  Supercharged emotional copy is what compels donors to give more generously.

You take the facts, details, and quotes from people at the scene.  Then paint an intense picture for your readers.  They become part of the event from the words written. 

  • Your reader - donor - can smell the rotten mud and decay. 
  • Can hear the wails of the heartbroken family hoping against hope to find their loved one and feel their pain. 
  • See the enormous mountain of mud and slime and imagine their own town being buried under tons of mud - or they associate with another natural disaster closer to home. 
  • The result is . . . your reader is right there in Guatemala experiencing the tragedy.

The stage has been set.  After opening with an emotionally compelling story created from a masterful interview, your readers are hooked.  Now you share how your mission is helping people recover from the tragedy.  And most importantly . . . how their money will be used and the wonderful deeds it will accomplish.  They can't wait to donate!

All this is possible.  Conduct the masterful interview.  Then craft the masterpiece story.  I believe the following headline would grab more readers at a deeper level (followed by much more of the story in the body to tie in the mission work):

"Ana, my 5-year old niece, lies buried somewhere in that . . . that mountain of mud.  She's too precious to leave there.  Oh how I wish I could see her warm smile and get a big hug from her.  I'll keep searching.  It's our tradition not to leave anyone behind."
Bottom line.  You receive more funds to help more people served by your wonderful mission.  And your donors experience stronger feelings of satisfaction and goodwill.  All because of an emotion-laden, specific, and perceptive story derived from a masterful interview.

Copyright 2006  -  PK Scribe, LLC  -  All Rights Reserved.