How long should your fundraising story be?

I was writing a direct mail appeal for a medical charity, and came across this story. Here’s how I wrote it:

A few years ago, when [Name of Son] was a preschooler, he noticed that when he held his Dad’s hand, it would stop shaking. [Son] asked if he held his Dad’s hand all night, would the disease go away?

That’s it. The whole story. I added a bit of interpretation — something about how the little boy somehow understood the deep truth that when we stick together (hold hands) we can overcome the disease.

The letter was multiple pages. But the story was just a short paragraph. Less than 5% of the whole letter.

I think it was plenty.

(What was the rest of the letter made up of? Descriptions of what the donor’s giving could accomplish, exactly how much the donor might give, appeals to the donor’s values, compliments of the donor for caring, reasons for giving right away, and repeated asks.)

Notice how it’s more of a “scene” than a story. I thought about writing it with a lot of descriptive narrative and maybe some back-and-forth dialog … but it quickly became clear to me the this short version was the best way.

That’s what fundraising stories are like. Not always as short as this example. But seldom long and drawn out.

Remember that the purpose of the stories we tell in fundraising is not to entertain or enthrall people, the way a novel or a movie should. It’s to support the case for donating. So a quick touch that communicates strong emotion is really all you need. All you should even consider needing.

The real story that should dominate your message is the story about the donor and how she can put her values into action by giving to make something specific and wonderful happen.

The part we typically think of as the story is part of that story.


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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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