Have you heard of Fidencio Sanchez? I hadn’t until I hopped in a cab at the Chicago O’Hare airport on my way downtown for a conference (Uber Lyft wasn’t available). I heard Fidencio’s story on one of those incredibly small, seemingly always cracked TV’s in the back of the seat where they play a 5-minute loop with 2 minutes of content and 3 minutes of ads.

Anyways, Fidencio is an 83-year-old man in Chicago who pushes a popsicle cart in the Little Village area of Chicago. Nothing too out of the ordinary. So why was he on the news? Because he was the beneficiary of a $380,000+ crowdfunding campaign on GoFundMe.

That $380,000+ was raised from 17,000+ people in 24 countries in 28 days.

And that campaign was started by an ordinary Chicagoan who took a picture and shared Fidencio’s story in 174 words.

As I was driving down 26th st in the Little Village area in Chicago where I was born and raised. I saw this elderly man struggling to push is paleta cart (Popsicle cart). It broke my heart seeing this man that should be enjoying retirement still working at this age. I had to pull over and took this picture. I then bought 20 paletas and gave him a $50 and said may God bless him and drove away. I posted this picture on Fb and since then, I’ve gotten a huge response. That’s when Joe Loera came up with a great idea to start this campaign. Mr. Fedencio Sanchez and his wife recently lost their only daughter and are still heartbroken about the situation. His elderly wife was selling paletas also to help pay bills, but she fell ill and can’t work anymore. We’re trying to raise money to help him with whatever we can. Anything helps. Let’s all pitch in and help make life a little easier and brighten both of their day.

What a world. A benevolent citizen can snap a picture, set up a page, share a story, and raise some serious moola. I think Fidencio’s story, and the story of the crowdfunding campaign, offers us a lot to learn on storytelling and fundraising but it also shows three key things as it relates to storytelling:

  1. There is huge power in storytelling in today’s technology-enabled world
  2. There is a real ROI to great content and stories that inspire
  3. There is a real threat to the charitable sector because stories and ‘doing good’ aren’t owned by ‘us’ anymore

So why did Fidencio’s story take off? What makes great content or stories when it comes to driving action or fundraising? I’d love to say I have all the answers and if you just do this you can raise $380,000+ in 28 days… but I don’t. And I can’t. But I can share some research, belief, and experience behind Findencio’s story that you can use in your own work. So with that in mind here are…

But I can share some research, belief, and experience behind Findencio’s story that you can use in your own work. So with that in mind here are…

3 Emotions You Must Evoke in Action Focused Marketing

  1. Distress
  2. Empathy
  3. Belief

Here is a great video and research on distress and empathy:

Dr. Zak’s research shows the direct link between oxytocin and giving to the point where they could predict, with 80% accuracy, expected giving behaviour simply based on oxytocin levels and related physiological responses to story.

But for empathy to occur and that sweet sweet oxytocin to be released, your content or story needs to grab someone’s attention with that cortisol injection. Distress.

Put another way, there needs to be a problem and people to need to care about it at a human level.

Talking about global warming, a problem, with stats and information or even doomsday pictures of icecaps melting still can’t really connect with us. But when you start making the link to animals who are impacted or what it means for children, your children, or a family in the Arctic, or one person and what it means now the conversation takes on a whole new level. Because we fundamentally and inherently care about other humans. It’s in our nature. And we want to help.

But what Dr. Zak’s research doesn’t cover specifically is what happens after the story. Subjects were asked to give! I’ll save further discussion on identifying your value proposition and optimizing your response device – online especially – for another day but the main emotion you’re trying to evoke in the action phase, after you have someone’s attention and they are, is a sense of belief.

Belief that the action they are asked to take – making a donation, signing up for an email, attending an event – will help lead to a solution or resolution, in human terms, to the problem that was created in the first place.

This is where real tangible asks – specific amounts, details about geographic location and how funds will be used – are hugely important. They help instill – or perhaps simply keep – belief high. And if the belief is held and action is positioned in a tangible way – when it comes to fundraising for sure – the results are much greater.

The Science of Giving: Experimental Approaches to the Study of Charity

This belief and tangibility makes the natural action they want to take – help another human they care about in trouble – seem more reasonable. More rational. Their analytical brain can then justify what the heart wants. And the heart wants what it wants (HT Selena Gomez).

And when people are given real belief in their actions after caring and wanting to help, amazing things can happen.

Like giving their money away. For ‘nothing’. To support a man they’ve never met.


For good fundraising content and storytelling to occur, people need to feel distress (releases cortisol) and presented with a problem. This problem needs to be conveyed in human terms to evoke empathy (releases oxytocin). And then they need to be offered hope and belief that their actions will make a real impact on real humans to solve the initial problem (even in a small way).