As you sit down to write the year-end appeal for your non-profit, there are a lot of things you could write. But what would be the most persuasive for your donors to hear?
Stories are what will most likely be persuasive and resonant with your donor audience. But not all stories are equal. Simply telling a story is not enough to tip the scales in your favor. You have to tell the right story.
You see when a donor makes a gift one of the things that they are doing is living out their values through philanthropy. In order to help them see how they can do that, communicating with them on a values level is helpful. Stories are one way that we can show philanthropic values in action to inspire a gift.
Today I want to talk about two types of stories that you can tell during year-end fundraising that will communicate key values and resonate emotionally with donors.
Theory of Change Story
The Theory of Change story is not often used by 501c3 organizations in fundraising, but if you work in the advocacy space you are probably familiar with it.
A Theory of Change is essential a description of how and why the desired change will occur in a particular context. The focus is on creating a narrative to help people imagine how they will get from point A (a problem) to point b (a solution). It also answers the question – why will donating help to create this change?
Typically, a Theory of Change is created to evaluate organizational impact. It is also key to explaining organizational impact to a donor audience.
On the surface, this does not look like the kind of stories that we often talk about when we talk about non-profit storytelling. Yet, this is the essential story that is the foundation of an appeal and all other stories layered on top of it.
If you’re new the concept of Theory of Change, here are a couple of articles that I recommend for additional reading:
Six Theory of Change Pitfalls to Avoid
I said earlier that stories illustrate philanthropic values in action. In a Theory of Change story that naturally occurs as you talk about the desired outcome and how you plan to arrive at it. Donors will be able to identify (or not identify) with your vision and therefore donate (or not donate).
To illustrate the Theory of Change story in action, I’m going to show you two examples and talk about the differences between them.
Here’s the low down on these two examples. You’ll notice that in both of the examples above, I’ve circled some text.
In the first example from the UNICEF USA Fund, the theory of change is missing. Why do I say it’s missing? First, they tell us that there is some kind of urgent situation. Then they make an ask. What’s missing here is even just a sentence about why a donation will solve the urgent situation that they’ve told us about. With that information missing, the emphasis is really on their matching campaign opportunity, which isn’t really a theory of change.
The second example is from WAVAW Rape Crisis Centre (and full disclosure, this is an email that I helped write). Compared to the first example from UNICEF USA Fund, this email tells us what the problem is — “the justice system doesn’t support women.” The solution WAVAW does support women and donors join them by raising money to ensure that there is more than one crisis line at the organization because the crisis line ensures that there is support available for women. This is a much clearer and thorough theory of change. It’s not missing the “how” and ultimately, I think that makes it more compelling for donors.
The second type of story that is useful to tell during year-end appeals is an impact story. If the Theory of Change story is the engine of the car, the impact stories are the wheels moving it forward. By that I mean, a Theory of Change is big picture and visionary. It’s exciting and motivating. But sometimes, it is helpful to give people a more concrete example and that’s where an impact story comes into play.
An impact story is a story that gives a clear example of donor and organizational impact. This example could relate to past giving or it could relate to the gift that you are asking for. This story will likely highlight a specific person, place or thing that your donors can help through their giving.
Not sure how to articulate your impact? Read this: From Impact to Story.
Similarly to a Theory of Change story, when you tell an impact story you are communicating values about your cause and that gives donors the opportunity to also self-identify and be part of your exciting work.
Does your organization tell these types of stories? Will you tell other stories in your next appeal? Leave a comment below this post and share your thoughts.