Stories have incredible power: They open closed minds and are scientifically proven to stick with us longer than facts. But can stories deliver the goods when fundraising?

Over the past few months, we’ve worked with some of our clients here at Wonder to answer that question. Together, we pioneered a story-based formula for fundraising appeals that we put to the test in the field. Did the formula bring in the dollars? Keep reading to find out.

The Five-Step Formula for Direct Fundraising Appeals

Whether you’re crafting an email or arming board members with cocktail-party asks, there is a formula to follow. Our brains have evolved to respond to stories. Once our brains are primed, then we’re more open to hearing the ask. So how do you put this into action?

Step 1: Open With a Story

  • Highlight a challenge and how your organization helped to overcome that challenge.
  • This elicits the empathy necessary to prime people to give.
  • Keep the story short; focus on the drama as the characters struggle to meet the challenge.

Step 2: Briefly Cite Other Examples of Success

  • Now that you’ve elicited empathy, it’s time for donors’ logic to kick in.
  • Highlight one or two facts that show that your success extends beyond this one example story.

Step 3: Articulate a Higher Moral Meaning

  • What’s the broader moral or value your story and examples represent?
  • Maybe it’s a message about our common humanity. Or, strong communities need art because it reflects our shared struggles — and aspirations.

Step 4: Ask Them to Own the Vision 

  • This is the point where you ask them to donate. But beyond asking them to donate, you are asking them to join — or own in — making your organization’s vision a reality.
  • Ideally, segment your list between low donors ($5 to $100), mid-level donors (250-$500), and major donors ($501 – $5,000).
  • Always offer a range: “Would you make a donation today for $25, $50, $100, or whatever you can afford?”

Step 5: Thank Them

  • Thank them for their consideration. You’d be surprised how many organizations don’t say thank you enough!
  • Let them know that you cannot do what you do without donors.

Did the Dollars Come In?

Back in July, we applied this formula in partnership with one of our clients for a major fundraising campaign. With an entire week left in the campaign, they more than exceeded their goals:

Campaign Goal: $80,000

Campaign Stretch Goal: $96,000

Dollars Raised One Week Before Deadline: $101,500

What other story-based tactics have worked in your direct fundraising appeals? Let us know in the comments. Extra credit: Read more about how to write successful newsletters.


Image: flickr/lowjianwei, CC BY 2.0