A group of fundraising professionals meeting to discuss their next campaign’s fundraising story.

From Passion to Purpose: Crafting a Fundraising Story

Imagine you receive the following two fundraising appeals in your email inbox:

Appeal #1: Support animals in need by donating to our animal shelter today. Head to our donation page to make a difference!

Appeal #2: Support animals in need—like Buddy, a stray pit bull with a broken leg—by donating to our animal shelter today. It’s with donors’ generosity that we were able to rescue Buddy, get him vaccinated, and send him off to his forever home. Head to our donation page to make a difference in the lives of animals just like Buddy!

Which animal shelter do you feel more compelled to support? Chances are, the second appeal grabbed your attention and enticed you to contribute because of its storytelling elements. With effective storytelling, you can not only raise more for your cause but also draw your supporters in and make them care about your mission.

In this guide, we’ll provide tips for telling your nonprofit’s story well, whether you’re running a crowdfunding campaign, hosting a fundraising gala, or anything in between.

1. Identify your purpose.

Start crafting your fundraising story by determining the central message or theme you want to convey. If you have different elements of your cause, narrow your focus to the efforts you’d like to highlight in this campaign. For example, the American Red Cross may decide whether they’d like to focus on their disaster relief efforts, military and veteran health care services, or global health work before they dive into storytelling.

Clarifying your purpose will provide direction to your storytelling efforts and may even help you determine which type of campaign you’d like to run. For instance, if you’re raising money for a mental health fund to offset therapy costs for those with depression and anxiety, you may decide to sell candles and run a campaign entitled “Lighting Up the Darkness” to help you draw a connection between your fundraising initiative and the impact it will have on your beneficiaries.

Lastly, identifying your campaign’s purpose will help you determine who your target audience is and which platforms you should use to reach them. If you choose an area or topic that your younger supporters are most likely to be interested in, focus your multi-channel fundraising efforts on social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram.

2. Explain your cause.

Next, explain your cause and why it’s important. Share the story of how your organization came to be, highlighting the problem or need you’re addressing in your community. For example, an environmental organization running a recycling fundraiser may explain how a destructive hurricane in their local area caused the founders to become passionate about disaster relief and environmental rehabilitation, ultimately leading to the current campaign.

If you’re fundraising for a school or children’s organization, break down your cause so that it’s easy for the kids involved to understand and convey to others. For instance, a school may have teachers explain to their younger students that they’re hosting a shoe drive to collect items for kids just like them who need shoes to run and play in.

According to ABC Fundraising’s guide to fundraising ideas for kids, over 80% of parents who model philanthropic behavior see it reflected in their children. This means that getting kids more involved in your mission through storytelling can not only help you raise more but also teach them valuable lessons about giving back.

3. Humanize your efforts.

Put a face to your fundraising efforts with photos, testimonials, and real details about who you’re fundraising for. That way, people can easily form a deeper connection to your cause and be more inclined to contribute.

Let’s say you run a children’s cheerleading team and want to raise money to offset the cost of competition fees for their upcoming national competition. Instead of just sending a written appeal, include photos of team members at practice and past competitions (with their parents’ permission). If you’re creating digital fundraising materials, you may even include a short clip of the team’s current routine to show potential donors what you’re working toward.

When people can connect your messaging to real people and their needs, they’ll feel more emotionally invested and therefore more likely to donate to your campaign.

4. Share success stories.

Demonstrate the effectiveness of your work by showcasing detailed success stories. These stories represent tangible outcomes of past donors’ support, encouraging current or potential donors to contribute to your campaign so they can make a similar impact.

In these stories, highlight both how your organization has helped real beneficiaries and how donors’ support has contributed to that success. For example, if you’re a staff member at a nonprofit that provides mentors for at-risk youth, you may send a fundraising eCard to your supporters along with the following message:

Meet Aaron, a former mentee from our Caring Community mentoring program. While he’s now an entrepreneur, father, and current mentor, he was once a kid who needed someone to believe in him. He found that support in his mentor, Michael, and attributes much of his success to Michael’s guidance.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today without Caring Community and my mentor, Michael,” Aaron said. “He helped me build the confidence I needed to realize I could do whatever I put my mind to.”

Now, Aaron follows in Michael’s footsteps by participating in our program as a mentor. It’s with the generosity of donors like you that we can continue to provide programming and resources to our mentors and mentees so they can form strong bonds and help each other grow. Donate today to facilitate another Caring Community success story.

As you can see, this message starts by telling the story of one of the organization’s beneficiaries and transitions into an explanation of how donors can lend their support to change the lives of more kids in need. This structure sets the eCard up nicely to end with an appeal that asks supporters to contribute.

5. Provide a clear call to action.

The example in the previous section features a call to action (CTA) that encourages recipients to donate. When you end your appeals with a clear CTA that tells donors exactly what you’d like them to do and how they can do so, you round out your fundraising story and inspire those impacted by your emotional appeal to give back.

Fifty and Fifty’s fundraising CTA guide explains that a “compelling CTA sparks action” and provides the following examples of CTAs that can drive your fundraising story home:

  • “Transform Lives Today: Donate Now!”
  • “Be a Hero — Support Our Cause!”
  • “Give the Gift of Hope: Donate Today!”
  • “Empower Tomorrow: Set Up a Monthly Donation!”
  • “Invest in a Brighter Future — Make Your Contribution!”

Accompany your call to action with the next steps needed to complete that action, which in this case is making a monetary contribution. For instance, if you’re running an SMS marketing campaign, make sure to send recipients the link to your donation page.

When you tell a cohesive fundraising story, you better engage current and potential donors, increasing the chances they’ll support your cause. To keep your storytelling fresh, remember to switch up the case studies and testimonials you’re featuring to ensure they’re recent and reflect your current donors, beneficiaries, and services.