When fundraising stories are just blaring bagpipes

Is storytelling important in fundraising?

Of course it is. But knowing that fact by itself doesn’t help you much. Because you have to tell the right story in the right way.

Imagine you own a café. It’s a great little place, with the best coffee and wonderful food. Business is pretty good, but you think it could be better. Searching for a way to improve business, you learn that music can meaningfully increase sales and customer retention in businesses like yours.

Great news! You were a music major in college! You majored in bagpipe performance!

When it comes to bagpipe music, you know the ropes! You know the bagpipe classic recordings. You are personal friends with some of the major bagpipe innovators.

So you create amazing bagpipe playlists and start playing it in the café at the properly high volume that bagpipe music demands.

Business drops. And drops. Where you used to have happy crowds drinking, eating, and talking, you now have only a scattering of enraptured, kilt-wearing bagpipe aficionados.

How could the research about music be so wrong? you ask.

The research wasn’t wrong. But the version of the research you read didn’t go into some important detail: Not just any kind of music does the trick. It needs to be appropriate to your audience and situation.

Same with stories and fundraising. “Stories” don’t automatically improve your fundraising. The wrong kind of story can actively drive away donors. Here are some common types of “bagpipe storytelling” that don’t improve fundraising:

  • Journalistic stories. Journalism is supposed to give a complete picture of a situation. It answers who, what, where, when, how, and why. It has lots of details. It rarely includes the donor in the story as someone who can impact the outcome.
  • Stories about past success. These are nice and rewarding. But they very clearly signal to a potential donor, you aren’t needed here.
  • Stories not aimed at the donor, full of jargon and technical details that are meant to educate the donor how a program works — not move them to make a difference.

Stories that make your fundraising stronger are …

  • Simple. Quick and easy to read.
  • Emotional. Aimed at the heart more than at the mind.
  • About a problem the donor can solve.
  • More about the donor than anything else. Not about a heroic organization and it’s superb programs, but about the change the donor can make possible.
  • Don’t have a happy ending. In fact, they don’t have an ending at all. The ending is for the donor to write — by donating.


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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.

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