Improve Your Appeal: How to Create a Compelling Fundraising Story

November 10, 2017 Emily Cretella

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…to think about year-end fundraising.

Unfortunately, you’re not the only ones trying to get your audience to think about giving: from other schools to nonprofit organizations, from religious communities to neighborhood children selling pies, it seems like everyone is trying to make the most of this season of generosity.

So how do you ensure your appeal connects with your audience and persuades them not only to pay attention, but also to act? By telling a more appealing fundraising story. Here are five ways to strengthen your school’s fundraising materials:

#1: Ask before the appeal.

The key to appealing to your audience is understanding what your audience finds appealing.

Sending out a simple online survey prior to creating your fundraising materials can give you insights on not only what your audience truly cares about, but also the exact words or phrases they’re using to describe what they care about.

For example, perhaps your online survey asks: “What are your fondest school memories?” and one of your alumni responds: “My fondest memories at This School began on the field. The brotherhood, the competition, the shared experience…these are all of the things that stick with me today.”

Turn that feedback into content by saying: “Brotherhood. Competition. Experience. These are the lessons that begin on the field but last for a lifetime.” You can then explain what your school needs in order to keep those lessons going.

Don’t have time to do a survey? Look back at any past research, surveys, testimonials or comments you’ve received from your audience and see if there are key phrases you can pull out to include in the content.

Using your audience’s actual input to shape your fundraising story will allow you to easily appeal to their interests.

#2: Tell a story.

Once you better understand your audience, tell them a story that stands out. It’s not enough to replace the date and photo on last year’s appeal. You need to think big and bold to get and maintain their attention.

My all-time favorite example of branded storytelling is actually a fundraising campaign. It comes from the nonprofit charity:water, and it pairs highly emotional, cinematic video storytelling with rational facts and figures to paint a full picture of the need -- and the impact supporters can make.

Here are some of the powerful storytelling tools charity:water uses to raise funds:

#3: Lead with outcomes.   

So where should your fundraising story begin? Start at the end—meaning, kick off your fundraising story by talking about the outcomes.

This means, don’t title your printed piece “[School Name]: 2017 Annual Appeal.” Yes, that’s what it is—but so what? What does that mean to your audience?  

Instead of leading by telling the audience you are about to appeal to them for a donation, lead with why they should consider giving one. If your audience gives, what does that mean? What will happen? What will be the impact on your school, your community, your students -- the audience doing the giving?

Going back to the charity:water example, their story leads with the statement: We believe we can end the water crisis in our lifetime. That’s pretty powerful—and it’s a lofty goal to be working toward. Yet the organization gives its audience the confidence to believe that it can make it happen.

Think about what giving to your school really means, and lead with a strong statement that encapsulates your desired end goal.

#4: Then, get rational.

Once you appeal to your audience’s emotions, you need to support that emotional pull with the rational facts and figures that prove the story.

Think about the latest content trends that work online: Strong headlines. Beautiful imagery. Stellar design. Video narratives. Easy-to-scan infographics. Use these vehicles to bring the facts and figures of your campaign to life and to give them context beyond the numbers.

By connecting with the emotional, and supporting with the rational, you’ll create a story that is hard to ignore.  

#5: Focus on FOMO.

That’s Fear Of Missing Out -- the new way to basically say “everybody else is doing it, so you should too.”  

You can put a positive spin on this old rationale by making your audience feel included in something bigger than their own gift. Think of ways to create community around your campaign.

Include the percentage of alumni who contribute to your annual fund; create special content specifically for supporters -- or even get creative like charity:water and create a campaign that allows supporters to showcase their involvement on social media.

By demonstrating the good that everybody else is doing, you’ll convince your audience to join in.

Those are five ways to ensure your fundraising story makes it past the mailbox and into the “save” pile this holiday season. Need more storytelling support? Contact us to learn how Blackbaud can help streamline your fundraising efforts.

About the Author

Emily Cretella

Emily Cretella is a marketing strategist and copywriter who helps her clients create and share stories that make audiences take action. As owner of Cursive Content Marketing, Emily provides consulting, copywriting services and workshops to independent schools and higher education. Read her stories at

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