Driving Donations and Awareness through Emotional Storytelling


By: Ana Senior, Senior Account Executive

Emotional storytelling can be a powerful tool to tell a story, especially when it comes to causes that resonate with the human experience. Sharing stories like these with consumers and the media can prove to be a challenge – it’s a cluttered space with endless content being shared across various channels, from social media to online to print. Breaking through can be difficult, but once you bring together the right assets, a compelling call to action, and consistently keep the cause at the forefront, your news will spread through the internet faster than you can say “feel good story.” A great example is my team’s work with the Pan-Mass Challenge (PMC)*, a nonprofit bike-a-thon that raises critical funds for cancer research at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (Dana-Farber).

Focus on the people

Personal stories are what grab a reader or viewer’s attention from the get-go. Despite having incredible data and fundraising impact to speak to, we keep the stories of the PMC riders, their families and the benefiting patients at Dana-Farber front-and-center in our communication. This year, we had the pleasure of working with a strong young woman named Jessica Otto. Her dad had been battling cancer for the fourth time and she was able to share a father/daughter dance with him at her best friend’s wedding along with her sister – knowing they likely wouldn’t get one in the future. Jessica was also riding in her fourth PMC and raising money for the hospital where her dad was being treated. We knew we had to share this story to raise awareness for the cause and draw attention to the critical funds needed for cancer research. To no one’s surprise, Jessica’s story resonated greatly and was covered by ABC News, Today.com, Buzzfeed, Woman’s World, Elite Daily, and more. Unfortunately, days before participating in the PMC on August 5 and 6, Jessica’s dad passed away. This tragic loss only fueled her desire to continue raising dollars for research – and help someone, somewhere get their father/daughter dance.   

Jessica Otto_Wedding_5.jpg

Content is key

Once you have your story, it’s key to find visual assets that help bring the story to life. Reading about someone and the incredible things they’re doing does go a long way – but showing their story in a visual way helps connect people from coast to coast. Jessica was generous enough to share photos of the father/daughter dance she had with her dad before his passing. The photos were extremely emotional – and relatable. People from around the world visited her PMC fundraising page, leaving comments about how her story touched them so much they wanted to contribute to the cause. From the day the story was first told to now, Jessica has raised more than $16,000 for Dana-Farber. She received donations from complete strangers from the U.S., Europe and Israel. One person wrote, “Saw your story on Buzzfeed. I lost my dad to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma back in August and wish I could've gotten that moment with him but never will. Ride strong.” These messages of encouragement prove when you share a people story authentically and visually, you will rally others in support of your cause, because they can see themselves and those they love within your story.

Tie it back to the issue

When telling stories for a nonprofit, or any organization with a mission core to its brand, it’s important to tie storytelling back to the impact being made around the issue. For the PMC, the incredible funds being raised by the riders are having a direct impact on breakthroughs and innovations in cancer research and treatment. Since its inception in 1980, the PMC has raised $547 million for Dana-Farber. For example, one Dana-Farber researcher, Dr. Matthew Davids, who rides in the PMC each year, attributes Venclexta, a drug his team developed to treat chronic lymphocytic leukemia, to the PMC’s donations: “We have free license to use [the dollars] in creative ways,” said Davids. “It allows us to take more risks and pursue novel ideas. Not everything works, but sometimes we stumble on other things that turn out to be game-changers.” These impact statistics communicate the importance of interacting with a cause you believe in to readers and potential donors – because they make the results tangible. In sharing this information, we are able to make a direct correlation from a bike-a-thon to a drug that’s going to save thousands of lives across the world.


Make your call to action clear

Like with all storytelling, a clear call to action can make all the difference. Making sure your audience understands what you are asking of them is critical. Whether it’s raising awareness, asking for a signature, seeking donations – your call to action must be clear and easily accessible. When it comes to telling the PMC story, our ultimate goal is to drive fundraising. The PMC’s mission is to equip Dana-Farber with the necessary tools to one day eradicate cancer. The participating cyclists raise those funds and 100 percent of every dollar raised goes directly to the cause. Once we ensure people understand this important fact, we go straight to the call to action: support a family member, friend or stranger by donating to the PMC because the donation, no matter how small or large, could help save a life. It’s that simple.

Cone is proud of our work on behalf of the PMC, because we feel a personal connection to the people whose stories we share with the world. And it’s incredibly rewarding to cut through the noise of our 24/7, interconnected world and help put the people and causes deserving of attention above the fold.

*Current Cone client