Stories Matter

As a person who went to Catholic schools at almost all levels of my education, I get a lot of fundraising material in the mail, and it is always interesting to read through and evaluate.

I went to college at the University of Notre Dame, and as you might expect, they are at the top of the pile when it comes to their fundraising efforts. They raise an unbelievable amount of money (their latest capital campaign raised well over $1 billion), so they must be doing something right!

Yesterday I got an annual fund letter that caught my eye. It was a very plainly-dressed envelope with a plain letter inside. The letter was from a graduating senior named MaryKate Conboy, and the content was her story of how she wanted to go to Notre Dame, but things were financially difficult for her family. Eventually, Notre Dame’s financial aid program allowed her to attend the school through various scholarships and programs. She wrote that the annual fund makes a difference for students like her every day at Notre Dame, and that is it – no “please give” or anything like that. There was a self-addressed envelope and a donation card included.

In our interview with Notre Dame’s Chas Grundy in January, he talked about how Notre Dame’s home page’s was designed to tell stories. Everywhere you look at Notre Dame – they aren’t telling you facts, they are telling you a story. It is a small but crucial difference. I don’t usually read through everything I get in the mail, but I read through this letter because it was a personal, unique, and it told a story.

We know that stories work as a communication tool. Take a look at your website and your outreach – are you giving out facts or are you telling a story? Do you have a lunch calendar on a news feed that dominates your home page, or are you telling the story of your school and the students that go there? The answer to that question is crucial for success in communication both on the web and in other areas.