Storytelling for the common man: How we used AI to help write crowdfunding stories
By: Fatema Diwan
Published On: February 03, 2018
With great words come great donations. Anyone in the social sector can vouch for this. Storytelling has for long been one of the most underrated tools for NGOs, but with the internet facilitating a wider reach, organisations have understood that marketing tools can only go so far as to bring the potential donor to your website, but what compels them to donate is a good story.
But while organisations are equipped with staff, experienced in wordcraft to write good stories, individuals face a tumultuous time trying to put together a decent story for their personal fundraiser. Hundreds of medical fundraisers are created by individuals struggling to pay medical bills each month on ImpactGuru.com. The campaigner is usually a family member or a friend, preoccupied with worry for the person’s health. And most stories on any crowdfunding platform read like this:
My aunty is suffering from cancer in tamilnadu and going a free treatment in CMC hospital in Vellore, as we are very poor family and cant afford the medicine cost, so hospital has suggested to have some funds from any trusty directly to the hospital and they will supply the medicine, so please help us in this so that we can save her life.
Of course, this is no fault of the campaigner. He probably has never done this before. He doesn’t know what a potential donor might want to know, what would appeal to his emotions, what would ignite empathy. Most of them aren’t proficient in English. All of these factors hamper the potential of his fundraiser because when a stranger with a potential intent to donate lands on his page, he will be unable to understand with clarity his situation and his need and is more likely to bounce off without making any donation.
But, crowdfunding is for everyone.
Most campaigners approached us for help to write a story and we shared extensive articles and tips with them on how they can be more effective in their storytelling to bring in more donations. But these are medical patients or families of patients who have no time to sit and make drafts, get feedback and update a final version. They sometimes don’t even have the time to think about what to write and end up providing the bare minimum details or just a plea for donations like “Please help us” or “We need money urgently.”
For months we fought this problem by involving our in house writers and writing stories on behalf of the campaigners. But as we quickly grew from 10 fundraisers per day to 100 fundraisers per day, we had to find a sustainable way to handle the number of requests we received.
Storybuilder: Empowering the common man to tell his story
The problem we faced needed a quick fix. Patients and families in need were struggling to convince donors and meet their targets. We realised that the other crowdfunding players, both in the domestic and international space had not found any answers. In USA and UK, two of the largest geographies where crowdfunding is immensely popular, campaigners wrote in English, their mother tongue, and thus could express well even when they wrote little. Moreover, crowdfunding there follows a DIY model, where the campaigner is solely responsible for his fundraising and thus, most campaigners take time out to write a proper story. Campaigners in the west are also well aware of the model by now and thus, need little assistance.
In India, our counterparts did their best to provide tips, videos, examples, blogs etc. to educate the campaigner to write. We had those in place too, but we wanted to make it simpler. A worried campaigner who wanted funds to get a transplant for himself or had to gather funds to get cancer treatment for his father, had no time to read our tips or watch our videos.
Our Product Head suggested that process of story-building had to be automated for a typical Indian campaigner. This gave birth to the Impact Guru story builder. Our team spent months tearing apart great stories and arranging them into correct bits, then trying various simulations to understand and craft questions that would evoke the right responses from the campaigner.
The storybuilder AI registers the campaigner’s responses and weaves it into a compelling story. It has been customised to ask the next question based on the previous response to ensure that each story somehow sounds distinct.
Crafting a story: Evoking emotions and giving relevant details
The storybuilder records important details like the medical condition, the required treatment, the amount needed etc. but is also designed to add emotions. Especially for medical fundraisers, it is the emotions that convince the donor, the details are only to prove its authenticity. Without the emotions of a campaigner, the story would fall flat and so the various question formats used, also include open ended questions where the campaigner can add whatever they want. The open-ended questions help add the campaigner’s raw feelings and evoke emotions.
This makes the writing process easier as the campaigner doesn’t have to think about the story as a whole but only provide responses to the questions asked. In a way, it breaks down the complex process of storytelling into simpler bits, where the campaigner focuses on one detail at a time and the AI helps build these details into a larger, more comprehensive story.
Better stories, more funds
No fundraising platform can deny a correlation between a good story and higher donations. Crowdfunding happens completely online. The donor can’t see your situation and in most cases, doesn’t even know you personally. In this case, the only way to make them understand your situation is to put it in words and images.
The storybuilder has received a great response so far. Earlier around 70% fundraisers on Impact Guru didn’t have a story but within a week we have seen that decrease to 30% and hope more and more people will be able to use the tool to write about their situation. This is how an ideal story generated by the storybuilder reads:
Hi, My name is Loknath and I am raising funds for My Nephew, Ramcharan. He is a student at New Brilliant school. Mahammadabad, Gandeed, Mahabubnagar, Telangana India. He has been fighting Blood (Leukemia) cancer. He is under treatment his condition is serious he need immediately treatment. He is currently undergoing treatment at Apollo cancer speciality hospital Chennai.. He has been suffering for more than two months and it has been a tough time for me and my family. Chemotherapy and Radiotherapy is his only hope at getting better and living a normal life. His treatment will cost approximately Rs. 1000000. We are unable to pay for the treatment due to Family financial condition is too poor we can't pay that much amount please help us
The funds raised will be used towards his:
- Doctor's Consultation Charges
All of us are eagerly awaiting his recovery. Once he gets better, I'm sure he would love to All and he feel your God and Mother. Please help us we can't pay that much amount even we sale our property we can't get that much amount. He is only one son and 4 daughters. He is studying 3rd class. Please help us and save our child.
I request you to kindly contribute towards his treatment and help during our time of need. Each contribution is important! Kindly also share the fundraiser with your family and friends and help me reach the goal amount. We are grateful for your help!
This is only the first version of the storybuilder. Based on how people use it, we will constantly look for how we can improve it and make it more customised and personalised. The AI will keep getting more and more complex to ensure more the story gets more detailed and the campaigner gets more space to put in his/her thoughts and feelings. This is only a first step towards driving fundraising through storytelling!