Why (and how) you should not finish fundraising stories

Fred the Explorer was walking through the jungle, searching for the Lost City. The dense undergrowth to his left rustled. Fred froze. Suddenly the undergrowth exploded into a mass of orange and black — a giant Bengal tiger, bellowing as it hurtled toward Fred.

Before I tell you the rest of that story, let me point you to a very useful post at the Better Fundraising blog: How (And When) To Tell A Finished Story.

Because it’s important to know when you should and should not finish the stories you tell.

When you’re talking to donors about the difference they’ve made, finish the story — and be sure it’s clear that they helped make the satisfying finish possible. (Read the Better Fundraising post for lots of help writing those finished stories.)

But if you’re telling the story while asking a donor to give, don’t finish the story:

… telling finished stories has an unfortunate consequence: it diminishes the need in the mind of the donor. All donors hear about are people who have been helped, so they never emotionally feel the need your organization exists to serve, so they become less likely to give.

Now the reason you have Fred the Explorer’s story to tell is because Fred survived and came back to tell you what happened. So you are going to be very tempted to finish the story:

Fred, acting on instinct, ducked at the last possible moment. Tiger sailed right over him and somersaulted over the cliff that was right behind Fred.

Okay, that’s a story. It has a beginning, a crisis, and a resolution. We love telling stories like that. But it’s terrible for fundraising. You’ve resolved the problem without the donor. The donor knows intellectually that their donation is still needed for other explorers facing tiger attacks. But emotionally you’ve signaled, loud and clear, that nothing needs to be done. And emotion is where the real action is.

Just don’t tell how the story ends. Stop at the crisis moment and ask the donor to finish the story by giving. For Fred the Explorer, the sentence right after bellowing as it hurtled toward Fred should put the next action in the donor’s hands. It might go like this:

Fred and other Explorers face the danger of tiger attacks every day. Promising leads to the Lost City can be lost in an instant when a tiger gobbles up an Explorer. For just $18 you can supply an Explorer like Fred with enough Tiger Repellant Spray to keep him safe for an entire expedition….

Every writer’s instinct you have will protest against that. We all want to tell complete stories. Unfinished stories violate our sense of what a story is.

But unfinished stories raise a lot more funds. Because they move the story from a piece of entertainment to an urgent call to action.

It’s a type of donor love, really … empowering the donor to make a difference.


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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.