Tell powerful stories to reach your fundraising goals


Resources Mar. 4th, 2024

Ever hear that saying – it’s the journey that matters not the destination? Well, it’s true.  

Think of your favorite superheroes. Would you like Batman as much if you only knew him as a billionaire playboy with some serious fighting skills? Stories are what help us relate to heroes, understand their motivations and make them seem human (unless you’re Superman of course!). 

The point is, stories are powerful devices. Using them effectively can help you build strong connections, communicate your struggles and encourage giving. Let’s take a look at how you can use stories to boost fundraising efforts! 

Decide your key message 

Make sure your story has a point. A story without a clear message can leave readers feeling lost, confused and unsure about what to do next. Organize your narrative around a single clear message and use points to back up that message. 

For example, if your organization supports homeless dogs, your key message and call to action could be adopt a dog or support a shelter. With either message you can talk about how strays are discriminated against, how they’re often mistreated and how your shelter gets them ready for adoption. But the way you write and link back to the key message will change.

Instead of trying to say everything, pick one thing that will resonate with your audience and go with that. Which brings us to….

Communicate clearly; elicit emotion 

Once you have your key message in mind – it’s time to start writing! Nonprofits are notorious for their heavy usage of acronyms, theory of change models and policy language – but you must resist the impulse! Jargon is fundraising kryptonite. 

No one outside your small circle will understand what you’re saying and you’ll lose the heart of your story. 

Instead, show some personality, be conversational and use emotive language (i.e. language that makes others feel something). Tell them about something you’ve struggled with or a major milestone you achieved during the year – chances are your audience (especially if they’re previous donors) already cares about your cause, so make sure you keep it interesting. 

Your story is about how you change lives, how you’ve made a difference in the community or how your donors are impacting others. 

Develop an arc and narrative

Strong stories follow an arc and narrative that engage the reader and create an emotional attachment to the characters involved. Most simply, this means there is a beginning, middle, and end that helps visually demonstrate your organization’s mission and impact. 

For example, when telling a story for fundraising purposes, start with introducing the individual, community, or object (ie: animal or natural area) your organization is seeking to help. Next, outline the challenge they have or are facing followed by an explanation of how the donor, with their financial gift, can help the character in your story overcome that challenge. 

Be specific 

Specificity is not the same as jargon. Using numbers that matter, or letting an audience know the specifics of your program, the problem, how you’re trying to solve it will communicate to donors that you know what you’re talking about and you have a solid plan. It gives donors confidence in your ability to execute and makes them much more likely to support you.

When outlining the problem and your role addressing it, frame the numbers in a way that will be relatable to the donor. People have a hard time understanding large numbers (ie: millions or billions). Instead, try to relate your impact and numbers to specific individuals, your community, and the niche for which you are working.

Communicate possibility  

Remember when we said use emotive language to make your donors feel something? Well, that doesn’t mean you write a story so sad and hopeless that donors will drown in a puddle of their own tears after opening your email. While it’s important to communicate the seriousness of the problem – always leave your audience with a sense of hope. Communicating the possibility of change will make your donors feel empowered, and *fingers crossed* donate to your cause! 

It’s now time to take that first step, venture out into the world, write your own story and inspire donors to give!

Eric Bloom

With 17 years of experience, I have become accustomed to identifying key issues in order to craft impactful operational strategies, while fostering trust through exceeding expectations. My cross-industry experience (from politics to finance to healthcare to name a few) informs innovative solutions, tailored to address unique concerns and bolster the reach and effectiveness of initiatives.