Your fundraising story arc is too small

Traditionally, a well-made and complete story has these elements:

  • Exposition: Set-up and context so the reader knows what’s going on.
  • Rising Action: Things start to happen.
  • Climax: It all comes to a head.
  • Falling Action. We see what happens as a result of the climax.
  • Resolution: We find out the meaning of it all.

Many stories more or less follow this arc, even when the story-teller doesn’t consciously use it as a framework.

Fundraisers, once they learn that that telling stories is an effective way to raise funds, often use the full traditional story arc in their fundraising messages. It’s a story about a person in a difficult situation who struggles and then finds resolution with the help of the organization and the donor.

And that’s often a mistake. Because it puts all the psychological muscle on what is really a sub-story to the real story they should be telling.

Here’s a bigger and better way to build a fundraising story arc that isn’t all in one place:

  • Exposition: Happens within the fundraising message. It is about the person in a difficult situation.
  • Rising action: Also within the fundraising, but it is mainly about the would-be donor. Will they or won’t they enter the story and help bring about a desired resolution?
  • Climax: It’s not written by us. It happens (or doesn’t happen) in the life of the donor. She makes a decision whether she will be part of the story or not.
  • Falling action and resolution: They take place in the acknowledgement, thank you messages, newsletters, thank-you calls … all the ways we tell donors their giving matters. (And those who chose not to give don’t partake in this part of the story arc.)

By spreading the story arc beyond the initial message, you create a much bigger story that involves the donor beyond just reading a story. You help them become the protagonist in the part of the story that specifically involves them — the decision to donate.

The whole reason we tell stories is to move people to a very specific action: to donate. That’s why telling a story that puts that action at the climax — and in the donor’s hands — works so well.


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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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