The Power of an Individual’s Story

Every six months in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, millions of church members gather together to listen to the general leaders of the church. We call this General Conference. General Conference consists of 6, 2 hour meetings. One is delivered for the women in the church, one for the men, and 4 for everyone. These meetings take place in Salt Lake City, Utah and are broadcast throughout the world and translated into 93 languages.

I love listening to General Conference. I love listening to the messages, and so many of the speeches, or talks, revolve around my passion—service. I particularly loved this most recent Women’s session of General Conference because the sole focus was on service, exactly what I am trying to do with this blog, and what many of you, my readers, are trying to do with your nonprofit organizations. If you get the chance to check out the whole session, here is a link.

Serving the Individual

Today I want to share with you a video that was shared, along with a talk that was given afterwards.

The video below tells the story of a refugee who came to America after living in war-torn parts of the world for years, after fleeing her home country when her father was killed.

After this video was shown, a lady by the name of Linda K. Burton spoke about service, and how we can and ought to serve refugees in our own communities.

I love how the focus of the video and the talk were on serving the individual. Sometimes working with nonprofit organizations, we might get caught up in generalizations: “We serve 2,500 people each day,” “We have drilled 50,000 wells,” etc., but ultimately, the work that we are doing is to serve the individual.

Impact of the Individual’s Story

I think this concept, of focusing on the individual, is especially important when your nonprofit organization’s are seeking donations for your organization and writing grant applications.


Because, research has shown that people are more likely to donate to a cause when they are told about a single individual that will be served, rather than when they are told about how many people are being affected by the issue at large.

I have read multiple studies about this, but here I would like to share the research of just one professor, Paul Slovic:

Paul Slovic conducted a study where he told volunteers about a young girl suffering from starvation. He then asked and measured how much money the volunteers were willing to donate to help the little girl. Next, he brought in a new set of volunteers, told them the story of the little girl, and also told them about the millions of other individuals around the world who are also suffering from starvation.

Which group of volunteers do you think were willing to donate more money? Group 1? Or, Group 2?

If you said Group 1, you’re correct, but why? Why are we more likely to donate to a cause when we only hear about the story of the individual starving girl? Also, it wasn’t just a little difference between how much the two groups were willing to donate. The first group was willing to donate more than twice the amount of money to the cause than the second group was. Does this even make sense?

Professor Slovic hypothesizes that we are more likely to give to the individual girl because we feel like we can truly make a difference in her life. We see the need, and we can see that if she receives our funds, she will be able to be fed for X amount of time. On the other hand, when we hear about the millions of other people who are also starving, we feel a little hopeless. ‘I can only give $25, that won’t even be a drop in the bucket.’ ‘Nothing I can give will make a large enough difference.’

Telling Your Organization’s Story in Grant Applications and Other Situations

So, why have I shared all of this with you?

As a nonprofit organization, you can use this information to your benefit. When you are talking to a potential donor, or writing a grant application, be sure to highlight individual’s stories. Focus on that one starving girl that your organization is serving. This will heighten the donor’s willingness to donate to your organization because they can see that their donation can and will make a difference. It won’t simply be a drop in the bucket, but they will see that their contribution will make a significant impact for that individual.

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