Story is embedded into who we are. The best stories feature focus on a single character. This character could be a beneficiary, a donor, or any stakeholder. The best fundraising stories communicate how the reader can make an impact.
When I first arrived at Food for the Hungry, our direct mail appeals used vivid stories to drive the reader to take action. Our emails were disconnected from the direct mail appeals and were more fact-based. The writer at our then-agency that handled email appeals had a journalistic background and believed that explaining the situation to people or just informing people of a match was enough to drive a donation. Unfortunately, our email fundraising suffered. After a few months, we took emails in-house and greatly improved our fundraising.
Telling the story of a beneficiary before, during, and after your organization helped paints a picture for the reader that any other explanation cannot. Let’s look at an example from an appeal for a Bible translation nonprofit organization:
Eugene is a Korean-American Bible translator working in a country that’s closed to Christian missionaries. Eugene is passionately committed to getting translated Scripture into the hands of the people who need it. “My greatest challenge,” Eugene says, “was that I could not find an effective method of distributing the Scripture I was translating.”
He produced microSD cards for use on mobile phones, but couldn’t safely distribute enough of them. A local video store owner even agreed to sell DVDs, but Eugene couldn’t advertise them publicly. Then he decided to post the Scripture videos he produced on Facebook. However, they prompted so many negative, discouraging comments that Eugene was poised to remove them altogether.
And that’s when God intervened in a remarkable way.
The message that Eugene received directed him to a Scripture distribution solution that has reached nearly one million people. God is working in amazing ways to reach the people Eugene works among with the life-changing words of Scripture.
In this story, we have Eugene’s story arc showing a challenge he faced all the way to an eventual resolution and Eugene having hope. In this appeal, the organization opened a story loop and closed it on the landing page. Opening a story loop means the organization began a story and left the ending out, a psychological trigger in humans to want to close the loop by clicking to the landing page to read what happened to Eugene. It’s a clever tactic to get people to your landing page.
Let’s look at another story, this one from Food for the Hungry:
This couldn’t be more urgent — a true life-or-death emergency for families like Halima’s.
She runs a food cart in her Kenyan village — the only source of income for her and her two children. But the water Halima used to cook, wash dishes, and keep the cart hygienic with … came from a far-off river contaminated by animal and human waste.
Her daughters, Sabina and Zainabu, kept getting sick from the dirty water. The customers even complained of the foul taste and stopped buying food from Halima’s food cart.
As a result, Halima didn’t have enough money to buy her daughters the medicine they needed to get well … to pay for school … or to meet basic needs for food!
But then a generous friend like you intervened — helping Food for the Hungry construct a rainwater harvesting system in the marketplace of Halima’s Kenyan village, not far from the food cart!
Now, Halima has access to safe, clean water for her business. Her customers — and income — have increased, making it possible for Halima to send her girls to school, afford medicine when they’re sick, buy food, and make way for a brighter future!
But many more impoverished children and families are still desperately waiting — suffering, and even dying, for lack of clean water.
This story use urgent language to convey an immediate need to take action. The descriptive language paints a picture of what was happening to Halima and her family. It tells the resolution of the story from the point of view of the donor, But then a generous friend like you intervened, positioning the reader to see himself in the shoes of the one that helps.
Great fundraisers are great storytellers. Connect with people from the point of view of a donor helping a beneficiary so the reader can put themselves in the shoes of making a difference in the life of a real person.