May 8, 2015

Fundraising appeals tied to particular causes, time of year or specific needs are often used to great effect by fundraisers.

Because they hone in on a specific, often time-limited effort, they present a very clear connection between the gift and the outcome.

In general, appeals need to include the total amount needed, the purpose and the timeframe. Making an actual ask for a gift is essential and so are providing suggested amounts and a way to respond.

But hands-down, the most vital approach in an appeal is placing an emphasis on the donor while creating an emotional response impelling them to give.mtm0515b 2

People give because their heartstrings are plucked by the plight of other living things, whether human or animal. Although statistics can be impressive and show the size of the need, stories are what truly engage.

It is well documented that stories depicting healthy and happy beneficiaries don’t work as well as so-called sad pictures. The impact of seeing a starving child cannot be denied, while showing them as well-fed counteracts the message of urgent need.

That said, success stories are also an effective way to communicate with donors. They want to see the results of their giving and know that it had a tangible benefit.

It’s inspiring to learn that the starving child is healthy and in school or that the abandoned dog was adopted into a loving home. You may need one or many success stories depending on your programs and appeals, but the elements of a great story include:

  • Identify the protagonists – who are they?
  • Explain their situation in space and time. (Last year, in a Boston housing project, etc.)
  • Vividly describe the challenges and barriers they faced on the way to their goal or fulfilling their need – including after receiving your help.
  • Be specific about the services or assistance the protagonist accessed through your organization.
  • Talk about where they are now and how they are doing.

Good stories will take the reader on a journey of sympathy for the protagonists’ plight, engagement in their challenges, and satisfaction at their success.

Donors want to hear good news and feel validated in the decision to contribute. Remember to keep the focus on them – “you” language instead of “we” language. The idea is to reduce the barrier of distance between a donor and the constituents you serve by engaging them in real-life happy endings.

This article was originally posted on May 8, 2015 and the information may no longer be current. For questions, please contact GRF CPAs & Advisors at