Storytelling Can Add Zest to Copy
In the search for a happy medium between esoteric jargon and more elementary copy, narrative may be the golden mean.
The National Audubon Society arrived at this crossroads in fall 2003. Faced with the challenge of mailing a letter that talked about the connection between members' interests in conservation and science in a way that wasn't dry, but also wasn't dumbed down, Audubon enlisted the help of professional storyteller Carolyn Rapp.
"We made a change starting with Carolyn in November ," says Agnes Fitzmaurice, Audubon's annual giving manager. Switching to this storytelling formula, Audubon sent out its first mailing penned by Rapp late last year. The new approach, says Fitzmaurice, was influenced by "messages that were tested with focus groups." She adds, "One of those messages was bringing the idea of conservation home."
This mailingthe second using the storytelling formuladropped in late March enclosed in a yellow, 6" x 9" envelope featuring teaser copy, "More ways to help more birds and have more fun doing it!" (610NAAUSO0304)
Sent to current members and donors, new members, and recent renewals, it includes an 81/2" x 11" four-page letter on cream paper; a 4" x 81/2" four-color double-sided buckslip; an 8" x 51/2" order card; and a BRE.
The focal point is the letter. Beginning with "Dear Auduboner," it emphasizes Audubon's commitment to helping concerned citizens take active roles in protecting nature through various programs. Highlighted in the letter are three such programs: the Christmas Bird Count, the Great Backyard Bird Count and Audubon at Home.
"We wanted to bring it down to a human story level and kind of tell stories of how people are involved in these programs, and what it's doing for them," adds Fitzmaurice.
The letter strives to convey this message on the first page, stating:
"A man joins a group of fellow bird enthusiasts in a marsh on Long Island one day late in December to count birds. His participation along with 56,000 others in Audubon's Christmas Bird Count provides vital information to the longest-running survey and largest database in ornithology in the Western Hemisphere and helps guide our work to protect critical bird habitat."
Spinning a series of yarns that tie member involvement in local programs to the worldwide conservation effort is the running theme throughout the letter and buckslip, and has proven to be a successful strategy for Audubonone that Fitzmaurice says has brought in 2 percent more than the net income originally forecasted.
"This is a formula that we definitely plan to continue to use," she adds. "The focus of this mailing is driving the average gift higher. This format of telling stories, we find, is very effective, because talking about ecospheres can be very dry."
Through Rapp's storytelling, the letter transcends the weight of scientific language, transporting the reader into a more lush, literary read.
Audubon also uses storytelling to create a sense of urgency. Interspersed with stories of how members benefit from Audubon's programs are lines of text stressing dangers like "the increasing threats from habitat loss and degradation," and the vital need for these programs so scientists are aware of how the West Nile virus is impacting bird species, which ignite a sense of impending doom.
"People in our file will respond to different kinds of things," says Fitzmaurice. "Some respond to 'the sky is falling, send us money.'"
Balancing the empowerment members gain from being involved in programs like the bird count with the imperative news these counts often reveal about
declining species increases Audubon's chances of eliciting responses from members moved by eloquent stories as well as those ignited by "the sky is falling" rhetoric.