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
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?
old is Ana?
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
[Mr. Noj and his experience] Have you gotten any
sleep in the last three days?
(Recall Mr. Noj has been searching for three days.)
- Is she your brother's daughter or your sister's?
- What does Ana like to do? What are her favorite
- 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
- 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
[More about Ana and what happened] Was Ana at
home, at school, or somewhere else when the
- 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;
- 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
[The village] Tell me a little more about the
village where you live.
- 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?
[Return to the event and what Mr. Noj is doing]
Did the mudslide hit at night when people were sleeping
or during the day?
- 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
- 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
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
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
- 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):
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.
|"Ana, my 5-year old
niece, lies buried somewhere in that . . . that mountain of mud.
too precious to leave there. Oh how I wish I could see her warm
and get a big hug from her. I'll keep searching. It's our
not to leave anyone behind."