As I look back on all the smart people we heard from during Fundraising21, I’ve been trying to single out one bit of information that stood out to me. That’s been a hard task.

But as I was looking back at the presentations, something Alan Mason said resonated with me. It was actually a quote Alan Mason used, from the great Maya Angelou,

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

If you have been through one of our training sessions with Vidare Creative, you know I’m the “urgency guy.” I’m convinced that you will not get a person to take action without a specific goal and a deadline. 

But I’m equally as convinced your efforts at urgency won’t be nearly as effective if you don’t make the listener feel something first. It’s the “why” and then the “why now.” When you tell a great story of a real person who has been changed by the ministry, you set the table for the urgency of the moment.

But as my partner Paul Goldsmith says, “It’s not the story, it’s how the story makes me feel.”

We have probably all experienced a time in our fundraiser where we heard that incredibly compelling call or story. The marriage that has been healed or the child who’s giving her entire allowance. If we lean into those stories they can be magic. Why? Because they make the listener feel something.

So how do you make your story most effective in moving people to action? Here are 3 strategies I have found to be effective:

Tell the story, don’t read it.

I hear this all the time. An announcer is reading a listener comment from an email or a pledge. It’s a great story, but by the time the announcer reads the entire comment word for word, all the emotion has been sucked out.

Read the story. Feel the emotion of the person. Then put the paper down and tell the story.

And this is very important, when you hit the emotional peak of the story, STOP. I can’t tell you the number of times I have heard someone read a listener’s testimony, hit the emotional peak, and then read the story all the way to the end. And I can feel the emotion draining out as they read those last few lines.

Let the emotion breathe a little.

As radio people, we are trained to hate dead air. There’s nothing that drives an announcer nuts more than silence. We are conditioned to fill every space with sound.

But as a storyteller, often the words you don’t say are as important as the ones you do. Pregnant pauses and well placed silence are the fuel of emotion. They hold the listener in that moment and linger on what they are feeling.

Relate the story back to the listener and put them into that emotional space.

Feeling the emotion of that story is a great start. But the real emotional magic happens when you put me in the place of that listener. Make me feel what they feel.

At the center of every story is a human. A real person who has felt pain, sorrow, or loss. But they have also felt the joy of redemption or restoration. Take me there. Remind me what I would feel like in their shoes.

Then, and only then, tell me what you want me to do about it. Let the urgency of the moment feed off the emotion of what the listener is feeling. Tell me specifically what you are asking me to give. Set a goal and a deadline.

Emotion and urgency are the building blocks of a great appeal. They are two sides of the same coin…why and why now. Both are an artform. Master them both and watch your fundraising explode.


To paraphrase Maya Angelou, people will forget if you hit your goal, but they won’t forget how you made them feel.