4 Storytelling Tips to Create Compelling Fundraising Appeals

4 Storytelling Tips to Create Compelling Fundraising Appeals
Murad Bushnaq
April 15, 2024

Whether you’re reaching out to donors before an event or approaching the year-end season, crafting compelling fundraising appeals is key to securing vital donations for your nonprofit.

Ask yourself: Why are your donors motivated to support your cause? Often, this is because they want to play a role in the impact your organization has on their community. Storytelling illustrates exactly how donor gifts can make a difference, inspiring both empathy and generosity.

In this guide, we’ll discuss four storytelling tips to enhance your fundraising appeals.

1. Understand your audience.

Before you start searching for stories to share, it’s important to understand your target audience. This way, you can tailor your storytelling to appeal to their specific interests and motivations.

For example, let’s say you’re planning to incorporate a fundraising appeal (also known as a Paddle Raise) into your school’s upcoming gala auction. Many of the participants will be parents, grandparents, and other relatives of the students at your school. Because of this, you’ll likely want to choose stories focusing on tangible ways in which their donations will support the students.

When crafting a fundraising appeal of any type, make sure you really understand and speak to the specific audience for your story. Take into consideration:

  • Age: Younger donors almost always have different giving preferences than older ones. Consider segmenting your outreach with different asks for different generational cohorts.
  • Location: Are your donors and beneficiaries largely located within a specific geographic area (e.g. parents whose children attend your neighborhood school), or is your cause one that serves (and requires support from) a regional or national audience? Your messages should reflect this.
  • Communication preferences: How do your donors prefer you ask for their support? Tailor your messages to reach them on their preferred platforms at their preferred frequency.
  • Engagement history: New donors require a little more cultivation than long-time supporters.

Make sure your donor database contains up-to-date information about your donors and use these details to guide which stories you’ll prioritize in your fundraising appeals.

2. Focus on the individual impact.

When crafting your appeal, demonstrate the importance of your fundraising efforts by telling the story of how it will impact one, representative beneficiary. By centering each fundraising appeal on the story of an individual, prospective donors can put themselves in this person’s shoes and feel compelled to support them.

For example, if your school is trying to raise funds for literacy support, talk about a student who is struggling to learn how to read. Then emphasize that all funds earned at your silent auction will go toward providing that student, and others like them, with the support they need.

Or, if your charity is focused on providing free or low-cost meal kits to those in your community who are struggling with food insecurity, tell the story of how food insecurity came to be for one representative family, and how your meal kits make a difference.

At the same time, it’s important to note that any usage of a real person’s name or likeness can raise privacy concerns and should only be done with express permission. Even if your beneficiary prefers to remain anonymous, you can still tell a compelling story.

3. Position donors as the hero of the story.

Whether you’re trying to get donors to attend a fundraising event or sign up for your recurring giving program, empower them to take action by framing them as the heroes of the stories you tell.

If you’re hosting a fundraising gala, make sure your emcee, auctioneer, staff, and board members know who among your key supporters is attending, what they look like, and how they prefer to be addressed. They should also be able to speak to the impact of previous donations and convey credit to the donors for that impact.

With other fundraising campaigns, make sure your communications address the donor personally, and explain the impact that donations to your current campaign will have. Be sure to frame your message as the story of their impact by using donor-centric language throughout your appeal.

NPOInfo’s donor cultivation guide highlights the importance of sending personalized communications that appeal to each recipient’s specific interests. After all, every message should aim to establish a meaningful, lasting relationship with each donor.

4. Enhance your story with images and videos.

Images and videos can go a long way toward attracting the attention of potential donors, whether you include them on your nonprofit’s website, in social media posts, or throughout your email newsletters.

Eye-catching visuals can level up your fundraising appeals by conveying what words cannot. Here are some examples of images and videos that you can use in your fundraising appeals:

  • Action shots of volunteers in action: Showing the mission in context and in action conveys the tangibility of your donors’ impact.
  • A thank-you video of beneficiaries: Consider producing both a professional and a general-purpose version to include on your website. You can also create personal one-on-one thank-you videos for major donors.
  • Before-and-after photos: These effectively illustrate the progress and impact of your organization's work, providing a clear and compelling visual narrative of the change your donors are helping to create.
  • An infographic with relevant statistics: A well-designed infographic simplifies complex information for your donors regarding your mission, and quickly conveys the impact of their support.

Regardless of the type of visual content you create, be sure to follow nonprofit graphic design best practices and ensure that they’re consistent with the rest of your branding.

Once you have your story ready to go, include a clear call to action (CTA) at the end of your fundraising appeal so donors know exactly how they can contribute.

And remember to follow up and report back on the impact of donor gifts. Many fundraising software solutions come with reporting features that make it easy to summarize your fundraising performance. By sharing this information, you’ll keep donors invested in your fundraising efforts for the long term.


Murad Bushnaq
Murad Bushnaq is the Founder and CEO of Morweb. Since its inception in 2014, Murad has acted as Creative Director and Chief Technologist to help nonprofits spread their vision online through engaging design, intuitive software, and strategic communication.
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