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Year-End Countdown, Week 12: 3 Ways to Use Storytelling to Craft a Powerful Year-End Appeal

Editor’s note: For in-depth guidance and tips on writing the ultimate year-end appeal, download a copy of our popular e-guide, How to Write Amazing Year-End Appeals.


“Call me Ishmael.”

Stories have staying-power. They live in our memories, pull at our heartstrings, and motivate us to act. At its deepest level, the power of storytelling is what generates individual giving.

With 12 weeks left until December 31, it’s time to focus on your nonprofit’s story. Use these three tips to start crafting the message that will fuel your year-end campaign.


1. Use your #GivingTuesday &year-end campaign theme to create quality content and ‘drip’ it out.

Draft an email series to remind  donors what your organization accomplished this year, introduce the client you will be telling them more about in your appeal, and keep them engaged with fresh content right up to the appeal send date. This approach will help spread the word while sustaining your momentum leading up to #GivingTuesday and through December.

Don’t forget about your online ambassadors: Repurpose the content from your email series into compelling, easy-to-share content for your ambassadors. Think tactically and include ready-to-use hashtags, Facebook posts and images, tweets, email copy, campaign logo, campaign-related photos, infographics, “Top 10 lists,” and links to other engaging content.


2. Develop the story you will feature in your year-end appeal.

As you start this process, remember the five C’s of storytelling:

Core message: The core message is that one thing we want people to remember after hearing our story. When developing your story, ask yourself three questions: What do I want donors to think? What do I want them to feel? What do I want them to do? The answers will help you uncover your core message and how to structure your email campaign. They’ll also guide you through the logical and emotional sides of crafting your story and engaging donors with the copy.

Connection: At their core, powerful stories are about creating an emotional and authentic connection with readers. This often happens in the beginning of a story (Remember Ishmael?).  The same goes for an email. Think carefully about your message’s salutation and the first sentence. How will you hook a  reader and get them to stick with you through the end? A great example is personalization. Using a donor’s first name in the salutation (e.g. “Dear Sarah”) is a powerful way to build a connection.

Character: This is often the person writing or sending the email or the person whose story is being told. It might be a monthly donor talking about why she was moved to offer ongoing support, or a mother describing how she found work and helped her children thanks to your program. It could even be the story of a shelter dog finding a forever home. The sky’s the limit.

Conflict: Conflict is crucial in fundraising. Why? Because it creates a sense of urgency, which encourages people to respond (and give) to help you resolve the conflict. “These villagers have to walk five miles a day for fresh water. Donate now to build a new well.” You can see how those two things—conflict and call to action—are clearly intertwined.

Call to action: In broad terms, a call to action is the thing you want people to do. A good call to action is very specific and active: Click here to give. Sign this petition. Donate today. You can imagine doing these things, can’t you? Use active and affirmative phrases that motivate people to follow through.

For a detailed guide to leveraging a compelling story in your appeal letter, grab a copy of the e-guide, How to Write Amazing Year-End Appeals.


3. Make sure your donors’ experience matches the story you’re sending.

The donation experience isn’t a one-time thing:  it’s about consistency, repetition, and pervasiveness. Does your message and the feeling it evokes stay intact when donors move from one step to the next? When there is a disconnect, people are less likely to take action or complete their gifts. For example, if your website’s “donate” button is hard to find, or leads to a standard transaction page rather than a donor-optimized giving page, individuals are going to be less inclined to donate and you’re going to be missing out on a lot of gifts during the year-end season. Make sure your donation page is clean, clear, and consistent with your brand message.

Your brand’s visual elements (such as logos, colors, and images) and key messaging (tagline, boilerplate, and story) should be consistent for your organization and your campaign across all channels, including your website, donation page, email marketing, social media, and direct mail. Advertising and PR efforts should also reinforce your brand, and your staff, volunteers, and board members should understand your message to empower them to be more effective spokespeople for your cause.

Finally, make sure you have the tools you need to reach your year-end fundraising potential. Our all-in-one fundraising packages for small nonprofits includes everything you need for a fully-optimized year-end campaign, with beautiful donation pages, peer-to-peer capability, easy-to-use donor management, and strategic fundraising help from a virtual fundraising team.

Click here to schedule a software demo and learn more about the tools, plan, and team we’ve designed specifically to help small nonprofits crush their year-end goals.

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