People relate and respond to stories.
People have a stronger emotional response to stories of individuals or families than they do to stories about large abstract groups of people such as “the poor in our community” or “disadvantaged children at our school.”
This is particularly important to remember when you sit down to write your appeal letter.
If you are writing a fundraising letter for a literacy organization, for example, you’ll have more success if you illustrate how your donor’s last gift helped a particular mother learn to read to her child rather than telling your donor how you helped 227 people learn to read.
If you are a labradoodle rescue organization, you’ll raise more money by telling the heartwarming story of Fido and how your donor helped find his forever home than you will by mentioning the 549 dogs your organization placed in homes last year.
Every appeal needs a powerful story.
But where do you come up with your next story, particularly if you aren’t on the front lines of your organization’s work, like many directors or development team members? How do you find fresh, compelling stories time after time?
Start a story-bank!
First, make a list of three to five people involved in various capacities within your organization who may have stories to tell about your work. They might be volunteers, program staff, families who’ve benefited from your services, or even clients themselves. Ask if you can sit down with them for 15-20 minutes. Talk with them to uncover emotions felt by the people, cities, animals, etc… your donors will help through their support.
When your interview is complete, sit down immediately at your computer and type up your notes. Don’t worry about making it sound appeal worthy. Just capture the details and emotions so that they are ready for you to use when you need them down the road. You may even want to record your interview with that person’s permission.
Obviously, this is a time consuming process and requires planning ahead. You don’t want to wait until you are up against a deadline to be doing this type of work.
That’s why creating a proactive story-bank should become an ongoing part of your work. You’ll have inspriation at your fingertips well before you start writing your appeal.
But, if it so happens that you find yourself in the unfortunate situation when your letter must go out next week, and you are without an arsenal of inspiring pre-written stories on hand, just find one or two people to interview. Schedule 15-20 minutes to talk with them and find something you can use.
Important things to keep in mind:
- Do you have permission to use actual names of the people in your story or should you use pseudonyms?
- What photos or graphics might you use to illustrate your story? Include these in your story bank so that they are ready to go when you need them. You may need to arrange a photo shoot to come up with something relevant and compelling.
- How might the subject of your story feel when they see their story being told in this context? Slightly altering the non-crucial details can preserve anonymity while still communicating the story you need to tell.
- Consider whether the person you interviewed might be a good candidate to “sign” the request letter on behalf of your organization. A fundraising request from a front-line staff member, volunteer, or client can often be much more powerful than a request from your ED or Development Director.