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Storytelling — September 20, 2013 at 3:00 pm

How to Generate Word of Mouth



My colleague Brady Josephson recently attended the Art of Marketing conference here in Vancouver, and noticed a few themes emerging throughout the various sessions. Namely: if you want to generate word of mouth among your supporters, you’re going to have to hit them with emotion and stories. Here’s Brady:


Not a new concept to mefundraising or nonprofits, but probably the most important concept when it comes to compelling people to action. They have to feel something or they won’t share. They have to feel something or they won’t sign up. They have to feel something or they won’t give.It can be happy, sad, angry and so on but through our communications and messages, visuals and design we have to make people feel something if they are going to be word of mouth messengers.


And what’s the best way to evoke emotion? Tell stories. Tell great stories in fact and lot’s of them. Infographics, numbers and stats are great, useful and necessary but they do not evoke emotion. Stories do. Stories about why you started the organization in the first place. Stories about your passionate staff and team doing the work. Most of all, stories of the people whose lives are changed because of your work. 

If you cannot evoke emotion from your audience and supporters and tell great stories, to evoke emotion and pass on key messages, then it doesn’t matter what social media channel you are on, when you post and if your website is responsive or not. 

Stories are the bottom line. And hey, guess what? We’ve got a whole section of articles devoted to telling good stories. And so does Brady over on his blog, Re:Charity. Devote time to finding, crafting, and distributing those stories. It’s worth it.


  • Curious, how many stories tell? Is there a saturation point either with the communicator or the receiver?

  • That’s a really good question, but I don’t think there’s a specific answer. There are a few factors though. The first is: how many stories are you capable of telling well as a charity/communicator?

    The second is: how many venues of communication do you have? This is directly related to the size of your audience and whether you’re able to segment them or not. If you are, you should be able to find out what kind of stories people are interested in based on your analytics. You can further test this based on methods of communication. Maybe your snail mail audience is looking for different kinds of stories than your e-letters.

    But again — don’t stretch yourself too thin. If you can only tell one story, then stick to that one story and tell it well.

    • Some great points. What are the initial signs that an audience is getting close to saturation (before it actually happens and they tune you out)?

  • Part of that is monitoring how the frequency of your messaging affects your response rate, but it’s also going to be different for every individual. I’d suggest picking 10 donors and random and asking them how often they’d like to receive communication. You can also offer different levels of communication: weekly, monthly, quarterly.

  • Thanks for sharring your thoughts about art of marketing.