The Power of Storytelling in Fund Raising

Jun 28, 2018 - John Paff

Let me tell you a story. A true story about how six-year-olds changed the world.

My wife, Jeanne, is a first-grade teacher at a little country school in rural Indiana. As a reading specialist, she loves capturing the imagination of her students through the power of stories.

This spring, she introduced her class to The Water Princess, a book about a little girl growing up in Burkina Faso. Like many children in West Africa, the girl had to walk many miles each day to fetch water for her family. The distant water source for her village was often dirty and made people sick.

When my wife’s class read The Water Princess, these Indiana schoolkids were drawn in by its charming narrative style, rich illustrations, and lighthearted vignettes of village life. But they were also were concerned by the different circumstances — and big challenges — faced by children much like themselves.

They were moved to action.

“Mrs. Paff, we have to do something about this,” her students said. “It’s not right that little girls have to walk all day to get dirty water. We need to fix this.”

The book’s epilogue revealed that The Water Princess was based on the real childhood experiences of Georgie Badiel, now an international fashion model. Badiel has established a foundation to fund clean-water projects in Burkina Faso. Using her celebrity platform — and her story — Badiel raises money to dig new wells and refurbish failing ones.

“We can help with that, Mrs. Paff,” the students said. “We can sell stuff and raise money and dig a new well in Africa. They’ll put our school’s name on it.”

The children got to work making book-bag tags to sell. They recruited students from other classes to join the effort. Together, they made posters about their water project. They spoke in local churches and asked for help. They wrote letters to area businesses requesting support.

In other words, they told their story. Through creative design, public events, personal appeals, and direct mail, they repeated their story with consistency, passion, and empathy.

They drew others into their story.

Initially, I was skeptical. I thought, maybe they’ll raise the $700 needed to refurbish a well. I never dreamed that six-year-olds could raise $10,000 to dig a new well. But they surprised me.

Motivated by the story of The Water Princess, the students of Lancaster Elementary School raised well over their goal — enough to dig a new well and refurbish two more.

And they did it in five weeks, with the power of a compelling story.

“Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today,” said author Robert McKee. We put that quote in the lobby of our agency, as it reminds us daily of the important work we do.

Are you ready to put powerful storytelling to work for your business or non-profit? Send us a note. Tell us your story. We’re listening.

Because a story can change the world.