A good story makes us laugh, might choke us up, engages our imagination, and, when done well, puts us in the shoes of the characters.
The following are two different descriptions for the same fundraising campaign. Which one is more inspiring?
- By providing financial support to our Baseball team, you help to impact the academic and athletic experience for student-athletes. 75% of your gifts assist with programmatic needs and 25% goes directly to scholarships. Help support us to have a successful season.
- The Baseball team has had an amazing season and it’s not over yet! We’ve fought hard and made it to the state championship! We need help from our Bobcat family to cover $2,000 for transportation and $5,400 for lodging. Your gift of $75 will cover the cost of a hotel room for 1 night for 1 team member. We’ve been showing our Bobcat pride all season and are excited to have the chance to compete. Please donate and share our campaign.
At its core, fundraising is Storytelling x Sharing. 80-90% of the funding you’ll receive comes from the traffic you generate from your own marketing efforts. If you can’t get people who know you to donate, you won’t convince a stranger. Contributions come after connections.
Fundraising isn’t about begging either. It’s positioning yourself as an expert to solve a problem and inviting others to be a part of making an impact with you. Invite people to take part in the adventure and show them what they can help you overcome. You’re not begging for bucks! You’re changing the world, and you’re doing it by telling a story.
There are 4 core story lines that fundraising narratives should follow:
The Hero’s Journey
This storyline has captivated the masses in the Wizard of Oz, Star Wars, and Lord of the Rings. It’s one of the most successful storylines in Hollywood, and for good reason. As a member of the audience, we get to go on a quest along with the characters! Are you at an impasse and need support to overcome an obstacle? Are you a trying to go to an event or acquire a piece of equipment?
The key here is to make your audience the hero. Tell them about how their support can help take the “character” to the next stage in their journey. Create a budget that breaks down the tiers of funding that take you to your end goal by highlighting what they provide and/or how they get you closer to creating impact. Make it easier for your donors to visualize the journey and support the steps they feel are most important by tying these thresholds to rewards or having certain funding “milestones” unlock new rewards.
Make sure you define stretch goals before you start collecting funding to continue the story once your initial goal is reached.
Overcoming the Monster
This is your classic James Bond narrative. The hero has to defeat an enemy that’s threatening them or their communities. Are you trying to overcome hunger, disease, or another plight that is affecting a disenfranchised community? Are you working on creating a cure or product that will better people’s lives?
The first step is to define the monster. What makes it so terrible? How could the lives of people be better if it was defeated? Then, make your network the hero that is going to help slay the enemy!
Remember: facts and figures can be overwhelming and may emotionally shut donors down but personal stories will draw them in. Human beings can imagine helping one person, so focusing on the personal journey of an individual is much more compelling than talking generically about a vast problem.
Rags to Riches
We see this in Mad Men and Cinderella. The main character starts out with nothing, or loses it all, and ultimately gains wealth, power, status, love…you name it. There’s a transformation that takes place. Is your project or cause prompted by the life transformation of a team member? Are you looking to raise funds for a project or organization that helps others transform their lives?
Make sure that your video, emails, and other promotional materials use hero shots of individuals throughout the process to support the transformation that is actively taking place. This means being consistent with updates to keep donors in the loop as your fundraising progresses. Try to create a cadence for yourself by filling out a content calendar beforehand with templated social media posts, clear dates for certain activities, and a guideline of what content you and your team should be working on producing at any given time.
Think natural disasters or times when emergency support is needed because of an accident. This is for an immediate crisis. Illustrate the good that will come of support. Will funds go to immediate tangible items like water, food, shelter, clothing? Will funds help offset medical bills? Is there a memorial fund being established for someone that passed away?
The most important aspect of a fundraising campaign using this type of story is a focused scope. This means having a detailed description that breaks down the why, how, and when of your efforts in clear terms so that people feel comfortable that their funds will be translated into actionable aid. As mentioned in the “Hero’s Journey” section, a detailed budget goes a long way. This is a great way to foster trust with donors who are trying to act quickly and value transparency.
Regardless of the storyline you choose, remember:
- Start with a character. People give to things with eyes. If you’re raising funds for something inanimate like a piece of equipment, research, or a department, give it a voice by telling the story from the perspective of a person that will be impacted.
- Every good story has conflict. This is what people will recognize as the villain facing your character.
- Inspire action! Always think about your appeal in terms of the phrase “With your help…” to bring the audience into the story as the hero.
- Make the ask. You’ve done a great job of inspiring your audience, now personally invite them to participate. By asking people to donate, share, and like your messages, you’re letting them know exactly how they can become the hero in your story.
- Continue the story. Remind people to check back for updates. The average successful fundraising initiative updates their audience at least 4 times during the life the effort. We know that crowdfunding campaigns with regular updates raise 138% more than those without. Think of milestones and new details to keep your audience involved.
As you plan out your story, keep in mind that you should always use both video and images to tell your story. It’s a belt and suspenders approach: intrigue and inspire with your video and images, then provide more details about what the funds will be used for, why they’re important, and how you’re planning on using them.
Videos don’t have to be flashy or expertly produced. Some of the most compelling fundraising videos are recorded with a phone camera.
Authenticity is key. Let the passion for the effort, excitement for the possibilities, and the impact that will affect beneficiaries take center stage.
Finally, make sure your description introduces your audience to your team, the people they’re impacting, and illustrates your project design or research. You’re building credibility and interest while helping the audience visualize themselves in your story.
Your story is a vehicle for inspiring your audience. Be authentic. Don’t be dry. You’ve got this!