Stories make fundraising work — when used correctly

If you’re paying any attention at all, you’ve heard that telling stories is a good way to engage donors and raise funds.

But there’s more to it than that. Saying “You must use stories” is kind of like saying “You must use colors.”

A white paper from M+R Research Labs, Storytelling and the Art of Email Writing (PDF) takes a close look at the use of storytelling, especially in online fundraising.

The key point is this:

Embracing storytelling means more than simply dropping a personal story into a fundraising appeal. Too many organizations have a limited understanding of what “storytelling” means — and it leads to what we call “the personal story trap.”

The stories that don’t do you any good have one or more of these characteristics:


  • They are not relevant to the subject at hand.
  • They are over-written. They read like the work of a professional writer, not like what a friend would tell you over dinner.
  • They are not interesting enough to pull readers in. This can be a problem with the quality of the writing or with the story itself.
  • They’re about the wrong thing. Most commonly, an appeal for funds has a success story in it, which basically communicates that the problem is already solved.

I’ve found that picking a good stories is a lot like picking a good photo. The right one is:


  • Technically good (well written), but not so much that it calls attention to itself.
  • It’s about the right subject.
  • It’s about people, not things.
  • It communicates exactly the same thing that the rest of the messaging communicates.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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