Why just adding a story to a fundraising appeal isn’t enough

by guest blogger George Crankovic, Senior Writer at TrueSense Marketing.

One surefire way to grab donors is to include a great story about an individual. Just drop that story into your appeal, and you’re good to go, right?

Not exactly. Here’s why.

In a well-known study, participants were asked to give based on:


  • A story about one starving child.
  • Statistics about starving children
  • A story about a starving child with statistics about starving children.

The all-stats/no story version cratered. But so did the story plus the statistics.

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Even with a story, the focus in an appeal has to remain on one victim, not many. You can’t force donors to extend their compassion to a mass of people. They won’t do it. Here’s a better way to go:


  • Keep the identifiable victim at the forefront. Once you’ve presented the identifiable victim, weave that thread throughout the appeal, and don’t abandon the victim at the critical point of the call to action. A call to action like, “Save people starving in Africa” attempts to force donors to extend their compassion to a mass of people. Your call to action should be something like, “Save Abeeku from starvation.” If that causes restricted-gift problems, then make the “Save Abeeku from starvation” part the most prominent while downplaying the “and others like him” part.
  • Choose the right image. This is vital — show the identifiable victim in distress. Feature this image in the appeal, in the response device or online donation page, even on the reply envelope. And include a caption or other wording that reinforces the victim’s name and plight.
  • Be careful how you tell the story. If the story is just a recitation of events — this happened to Abeeku, that happened, then this happened — it probably won’t arouse much empathy. Instead, a compelling story would be not only what happened to Abeeku but also why those events matter. Convey the drama of searching for food and coming up short, the despair of growing weaker and weaker, the helplessness of having nowhere to turn for help, the feeling that this day might be his last before he succumbs to starvation. Get donors to feel what Abeeku feels. They’ll see a fellow human who sparks their empathy, and they’ll give.


Comments

6 responses to “Why just adding a story to a fundraising appeal isn’t enough”

  1. Marjorie Fine Avatar
    Marjorie Fine

    Great advice as is keeping the donor the hero and writing a dynamic story. Paint a picture!

  2. Marjorie Fine Avatar
    Marjorie Fine

    Great advice as is keeping the donor the hero and writing a dynamic story. Paint a picture!

  3. What if you don’t think of those you serve as victims – but rather victors? What if the work of your organization is based in the belief that those you serve have the capacity and desire to work themselves out of poverty?
    I take great offense at your use of the word ‘victim’…and your encouragement for us to use “poverty porn”.

  4. What if you don’t think of those you serve as victims – but rather victors? What if the work of your organization is based in the belief that those you serve have the capacity and desire to work themselves out of poverty?
    I take great offense at your use of the word ‘victim’…and your encouragement for us to use “poverty porn”.

  5. spenser Avatar

    In reply to Kris
    You don’t have to think of them as victims, but they must need help if you’re to raise money on their behalf. Being a “victim” of a tsunami or a drought doesn’t make you weak or feeble, but it does mean you could do with some outside assistance. They are “victims” of circumstances beyond their control. The hero of many stories starts out as a “victim” of some wrong, the story is how they put it right.
    And why is it “poverty porn” to encourage potential donors to put themselves in the position of your beneficiaries? “Poverty porn” is voyeuristic TV driven purely by profit, not emotive appeals for understanding and support.
    Reactionaries who don’t care and don’t want to be asked to care like to try and lump fundraising with poverty porn, don’t play their game.

  6. spenser Avatar

    In reply to Kris
    You don’t have to think of them as victims, but they must need help if you’re to raise money on their behalf. Being a “victim” of a tsunami or a drought doesn’t make you weak or feeble, but it does mean you could do with some outside assistance. They are “victims” of circumstances beyond their control. The hero of many stories starts out as a “victim” of some wrong, the story is how they put it right.
    And why is it “poverty porn” to encourage potential donors to put themselves in the position of your beneficiaries? “Poverty porn” is voyeuristic TV driven purely by profit, not emotive appeals for understanding and support.
    Reactionaries who don’t care and don’t want to be asked to care like to try and lump fundraising with poverty porn, don’t play their game.

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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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