When your fundraising story is not story at all

Read this excerpt from a direct mail appeal:

ERD letter STORY

This has the hallmarks of a story.

There’s a protagonist (Mary). There’s conflict (her situation as a teen mother). There are lots of details.

Yet it’s really not a story at all, at least not a fundraising story.

What this story lacks is the main ingredient of stories: Drama.

It says, “This is a dangerous situation for mothers like Mary and their babies.” This is an abstract presentation of the situation. Instead, it should dramatize the danger. Make the reader “feel” the danger on an emotional level.

This story is an “explainer.” It shows readers a situation in some detail. In hopes, I guess, that when people understand the situation, they’ll want to support the project.

Which is not how fundraising works.

Donor’s don’t give when they understand. They give when they feel.

Explainer stories don’t take most people to feeling.

The fundraising story of Mary would be different in these ways:

  • We’d learn more about Mary as a person. Her hopes, fears, and pain.
  • There would be more concrete details about Mary and her situation.
  • We’d know less about how the program works, and a lot more about what it does. (Donors aren’t paying for your processes; they’re paying for your outcomes.)
  • There would not be a happy ending. There’d be no real ending at all, because we’re asking the donor to help create the happy ending.

The purpose of fundraising stories is to touch the heart of the reader. Not to teach her a lesson about how your program works.

Understanding often follows charitable giving. It rarely leads to it.


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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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About the blogger

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.