6 common errors that kill your fundraising story

Stories make fundraising come to life.

Most people know that.

But not every story does it. Here are some common ways otherwise strong stories can become weak and useless, failing to connect with donors:

  1. Your story is not emotional. A “story” that isn’t emotional isn’t a story. It’s a list. The entire purpose of telling a story in fundraising is to connect your cause with your donors’ hearts. Because 95% of your donors will not donate until you’ve won over their hearts. Make your story about suffering, struggle, loss … then show the donor how they can enter the story and help create a happy ending.
  2. Your story has the wrong hero. The hero of an effective fundraising story is not your organization. Or your amazing staff. Or visionary founder. Any or all of them may be heroic, no question. But the hero of the story you tell to win over donors must be the donor. And they are more potential heroes. You are placing before them an opportunity to do something great. It’s up to them to do it.
  3. Your story is about programs, not people. Your programs are important. They must be well-designed and brilliantly implemented. But donors don’t give because you have great programs. They give because they want to make a difference for fellow human beings. Make sure that’s the story you tell!
  4. Your story is not detailed enough. The way to make a story come to life is to focus on details. Especially those telling sensory details that put the reader into the scene. Think about the five senses, and include as many as you can. That turns a story from an account into a living reality for your donors.
  5. Your story is too detailed. While you’re thinking about adding details, also think about the details that don’t make the story more vivid. You aren’t practicing journalism, working to include all The who-what-where-when-why. If a detail doesn’t make the story more human, interesting, and emotional — leave it out.
  6. Your story has a happy ending. Most of the stories we gather for fundraising have happy endings. We know about them because something went right! But a happy ending lets the reader off the hook. They see that things are good, and they are not needed! Leave the happy ending off the story. Save it for your newsletter and thank you letters — so you can show donors their giving made 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.

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