This is a guest blog for Mightycause by Clay Boggess, Senior Consultant at Big Fundraising Ideas

With 1.5 million registered nonprofit organizations in the United States, there is a lot of competition to win over donors for your cause. To stand out from the crowd, nonprofits must learn to tell a clear, compelling and engaging story, instead of just relying on a mission statement. Follow make sure you have these 3 fundraising storytelling elements to help tell your nonprofit’s story more effectively.

Let’s unpack these three essential elements of a story and consider effective ways to apply them to your organization:

  • Character
  • Plot
  • Resolution

Telling this story is achieved through donor letters, events, giving campaigns, and, most importantly, conversations. You can use this storytelling model to create a short 2-minute description of your fundraiser that tees up the conversation for the all-important ask.

Fundraising Storytelling Element #1: Characters

A story is usually known for its characters. Indeed, realistic personalities are what allow people to see themselves in the story and connect on a deeper level. The best question to ask when defining the characters in your story include:

  • Who benefits from our organization’s work?
  • Who is selling or making asks in our fundraising efforts?
  • Who is making donations in this fundraiser?

Most organizations will have a development team making the asks and prospective or existing donors (including businesses) helping them meet their giving goals. Ensure that communications about your fundraising efforts include both of these sets of characters. Doing so will ensure that people can identify their personal role, as well as who their actions are affecting. Here’s an example of how to make the characters in your fundraiser evident:

This year’s fundraising campaign at Read for Life is helping kindergarten students in our community achieve long-term academic success. Friends and neighbors like you can make a donation that will help students get more exposure to books when it matters most.

In two short sentences, you can instantly position students and customers as integral players in the fundraising story. Notice the use of the phrase “like you.” Help donors see how they fit in to the narrative with signals like this to create an instant connection to your cause.

When people hear stories, they instinctively look for characters with which they can relate. Give the donors in your fundraising story the power and opportunity to make a difference by connecting to characters, and show them how they can help resolve the issues that arise to create your plot.

Fundraising Storytelling Element #2: Plot

In a story, a plot arises usually as a result of the interaction between characters. Generally, a plot is something that introduces a problem that needs resolution.

A story may have many plotlines as characters seek resolution from others and within themselves. In a fundraiser, the plot is clear: a community has a need, but they don’t have the funds to meet that need. The resolution is achieved by friends and neighbors purchasing products. Plot is about action—even action as simple as writing a check.

As we’ve mentioned in our earlier posts about crafting a compelling mission statement, the more detail you can give, the better. Here’s a sample plot statement, continuing from the earlier example:

Reading scores are down over the past six years in our district, and teachers simply can’t get students where they need to be in the limited time they have. We’re fundraising to ensure students have a home library and are read to more outside of the classroom.

Context helps customers understand why this problem arose to begin with, and it sets up the core issue or problem being faced by some of the characters (in this case, the students not having textbooks due to funding shortages).

Fundraising Storytelling Element #3: Resolution

Resolution is closely related to plot in your organization’s fundraising story, but it has the distinct purpose of creating a sense of urgency and power for the customer. One powerful way to present resolution is to paint a picture of how the plot concludes in two scenarios—one where the donor makes a purchase and one where they don’t. Here’s one way to accomplish that:

Without the funds, we won’t be able to provide the materials needed to get students up to their grade level in reading. With funding, however, all students will have the chance to start on track and stay on track—for life.

This creates a subtle ultimatum, where the customer can choose to participate and be this story’s hero, or where they decline to participate and fail to achieve actual resolution. This places the power of resolution in the customer’s hands, is yet another effective strategy for retaining your base of supporters over time.

Of course, your story must conclude with the all important question to the audience: Can I count on you to help us meet our need this year? Armed with strong leadership and a compelling story, you can be positioned for serious fundraising success this year.

About our guest blogger


Clay Boggess has been designing fundraising programs for schools and various nonprofit organizations throughout the US since 1999. He works with administrators, teachers, as well as outside support entities such as PTA’s and PTO’s. Clay is a Senior Consultant at Big Fundraising Ideas.


Related blogs:

Storytelling for nonprofits

Nonprofit Storytelling for #GivingTuesday

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