Highlights from Storytelling Conference After-Hours Session, plus a Bonus Gift

So at the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference earlier this month in San Diego, I did an after-hours bonus session. A couple hundred people trusted me with two hours of their evening.

Note: get a deeply-discounted ticket to next year’s conference here.

The focus of my session was creating year-end fundraising that causes your donors to give gifts instead of deleting or recycling your materials. This post summarizes that special session. And provides you with a link to the actual presentation that night. And provides you with a secret squirrel discount code . . .

This is a long post. It’s more of a novella. Maybe a mini-festo. So grab a favorite beverage. And if you’ve read our free eBook on Storytelling for ACTION, much of this will sound familiar. But keep reading to see how to apply it to your year-end letters and emails.

To start, three ideas for you . . .

Your donor should have a role — and see herself — in every single story you tell.

This basically means that in your donor communications, you want to focus on your donor’s part of the story, not your organization’s part.

Here’s a real-life example: “Will you help us continue this important work with families?” Pay attention to how that phrasing positions the organization as the “hero.” The donor is given the role of “helper” or “partner.”

Here’s how we improved that phrase for the organization’s next appeal: “You can give moms like Julianne their own apartment, and counselors to help them recover.” That phrasing positions the donor as the hero and doesn’t even mention the organization.

That’s two different sentences about the very same organization. The appeal with the second sentence raised 8-times as much money. There’s more to it than one sentence, of course. But hopefully the example makes the point; focus on your donor’s role, not your organization’s.

What story you tell, and when you tell it, matters a LOT

When you are Asking for support — in appeal letters, e-appeals, fundraising events — you want to tell what we call a “story of Need.” This is a story where someone needs help now, today. Put another way, there is a problem that needs to be solved, today.

Most organizations only tell what we call “stories of Triumph.” These are stories where the person has already been helped, the problem has already been solved.

When you tell stories of Triumph, the only role left for your donor to play is “supporter” or “helper” or “partner.” It shocks most nonprofits to hear this, but that’s not the most attractive role you can offer your donors. And it doesn’t work as well as the following approach . . .

You want to tell a story of Need and then ask your donor if she will meet the need today. That story puts your donor in the role of Hero. Look at it this way:

Take off your organization hat and put on your donor hat. You’d rather be the Hero, right? So give your donors chances to be heroes – especially at year-end!

Pro tip: save your stories of Triumph for your newsletters, when you are Reporting back to your donors on what their gift accomplished.

You have a Big Story you need to constantly tell your donor

Your Big Story is really simple:

  1. Your donor is needed
  2. Her gift makes a real difference

You want to constantly say that to her and show that to her.

I can’t overemphasize enough how important this is. Most organizations spend their time telling their donors how good the organization is at it’s job. But for my whole career, again and again, I’ve seen that telling and showing your donors that their gifts are needed, and telling and showing them that their gifts make a difference, is the surest path to raising more money and keeping your donors for longer.

Your Year-End Fundraising Communications

So what does all this mean for your year-end communications? Take a look at my presentation from the Storytelling Conference, focusing on the last 10 slides, for the details.

Here’s the summary:

  1. Write to your donor about what her gift will do, not about what your organization is doing. If you’re an Arts organization, tell her that “your gift will preserve and promote the arts in your community in 2018,” instead of saying “Please support our programs to preserve and promote the arts in our community in 2018.”
  2. Tell her a story of Need. Don’t tell her how well things have gone in 2017, tell her how much her help is needed to achieve the outcomes you want in 2018. If you help homeless women and children, tell her that “your gift will provide safe housing for a mother and child –and keep them out of the cold–this January”, instead of “Thanks to you, we served 318 mothers and children in 2017.”
  3. Flat out tell her that her gift is needed and that she will have an impact! Phrase it any way you want. But say it loudly, clearly, and in multiple places.
  4. Final thought: focus on the deadline. Deadlines are magic for causing action in fundraising. If your year-end fundraising materials don’t mention the December 31st deadline early and often, you’re doing it wrong!

Now, to reward you for the half hour it took you to read this manifesto, I have a gift for you . . .

In my presentation, on slide forty-seven, there is a coupon code that will save you 25% on our year-end fundraising products

If you haven’t sent your year-end letter or Follow-up letter yet, save on the Successful Year-End Letter Samples.

If you’re already focusing on your online fundraising, save on the Year-End Digital Fundraising Toolkit.

With the coupon you’ll save 25% on your whole purchase, save a ton of time, and raise way more money than you did last year.

OK, now it’s up to you. It’s the most important month of the year for fundraising. Remember that your donors love to give, and go give them lots of chances to do so!

How to raise more money at year-end without breaking the bank

Year-end is fundraising prime time. Most nonprofits receive 1/3 of their annual donations just in the last few weeks of December!

It’s daunting — but it’s also the easiest time of the year to raise more money!

We gathered the most successful fundraising strategies we’ve ever used. Then we created year-end fundraising tools that will help you stay ahead of the game throughout the entire season.
Read More >

Ask, Thank, Report, Repeat – Trainings This Fall

We want to radically improve the fundraising capacity of small-to-medium-sized nonprofits. One of the ways we do that is by getting as much fundraising knowledge out into the nonprofit world as we can.

Jim is teaching Ask, Thank, Report, Repeat and the benefits of the Virtuous Circle a few times this fall. He’s hosting a 4-part webinar series (each session takes a deep dive into one part of the circle) and a live training in Walla Walla, WA.

Here are the details:

Ask, Thank, Report, Repeat with Washington Nonprofits

  • When: Wednesday, September 20, 2017 from 9:00 AM – 12:00 PM
  • Location: Walla Walla, WA
  • Presenter: Jim Shapiro
  • Cost: FREE!

Do you ever feel like your fundraising appeals are broken or falling short of their goal? Do you know how to honor your donor’s heart for giving while asking boldly and clearly for what you need? Now you can learn how to write, design, and deliver great fundraising appeals that raise more money while honoring donors who want to give you a gift to make the world a better place. The fundraising fundamentals you will learn during this session can be applied to direct mail, special events, and major donor gift acquisition. Learn more and register here.

Ask, Thank, Report, Repeat: 4-Part Webinar Series with Washington Nonprofits

  • When: October 4, 6, 18 & 20 from 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM
  • Where: Online
  • Presenter: Jim Shapiro
  • Cost: $60 –  WA NP Members; $120 – Non-Members

Encore! This series was so popular in the spring, Jim is doing it again:

If you’d like an easy-to-follow fundraising plan for your year, and you want to build trust with your donors, the Ask, Thank, Report, Repeat system is the answer. Oh, and you’ll raise a lot more money!

Come learn the secrets behind this proven, powerful system for communicating with your donors. Each webinar in the series will “go deep” on one integral part of raising money, and you’ll receive specific, easy-to-follow advice. By the end of the series you will have built an annual fundraising plan that is successful and repeatable! Plus, you’ll be confident. You’ll know your plan is proven and going to raise more money! Learn more and register here.

We hope you’ll be able to join one of these. And, check out other conferences, trainings and webinars on our speaking calendar.

Fundraising Training: Better Stories to Raise More Money

With Better Stories You Can Raise More Money

To raise more money you have to get donors excited about what their gifts can do.  And the best way to do that is by telling better stories.

Fresh from presenting at the National Nonprofit Storytelling Conference, Shanon Doolittle, Jim Shapiro and Steven Screen want to share their fundraising storytelling secrets with you so that you can raise more money!

Right here in downtown Seattle, on the morning of May 3rd, you can hear all three share their secrets for just $40.

You’ll learn:

  • How to tell stories that will delight your donors, deepen your relationships and raise more money
  • Tips and techniques to weave your donor into the story of your organization
  • What stories to tell at events, and how to tell them
  • The types of stories that work best in appeals (it’s not what you think) and the best stories for newsletters.
  • How communicating with major donors is a little different than everyone else – and why that matters so much

Shanon, Jim and Steven will make sure you have multiple ideas you can take back to the office and use that afternoon to raise more money.  Shanon has an attitude of gratitude and is a nationally-recognized expert on running successful events.  Jim is a major donor fundraising fanatic.  Steven is a data-driven communication expert.  Their advice is proven, and it’s effective.

The cost to see the three of them at the national conference is over $500. You can see them here for $40! Register today!


When: Wednesday, May 3, 2017; 9:00am – 12:00pm

Where: 415 Westlake Ave N, Seattle, WA 98109

Parking: Street and garage parking nearby


  • 9:00am – 9:15am: Networking & Coffee
  • 9:315m – 11:45am: Presentations
  • 11:45am – 12:00pm: Question & Answer

2017 Fundraising Trends


Let me look into the future and predict the fundraising trends for 2017.

  1. According to Blackbaud’s 2015 Charitable Giving Report, 93% of funds given to nonprofit organizations came from traditional means in 2015. That means major gifts, annual funds, fundraising events, checks, snail mail and by phone. Only 7% of donations to nonprofits came in online. Online fundraising will increase over time, but the data is clear that direct mail and face-to-face fundraising have not been replaced by digital technology.
  2. Donor systems will continue to improve and be delivered at a lower cost. Consider donor system platforms like Bloomerang and Little Green Light. They are taking on the big system providers and winning.
  3. Most of your fundraising revenue will come from a few key, select donors. Major donor fundraising is not dead! If you want to have fundraising success in 2017, makie it a huge priority to identify and communicate with donors who can give you $1,000 or more.
  4. Earlier I shared that 93% of funds given to nonprofits came inform traditional means. This doesn’t mean we ignore online, digital fundraising. I see a trend where more money will start to come in online this year and in years to come. But the key is to spend the appropriate amount of time and money on online fundraising. For instance, don’t go ‘all in’ on online fundraising unless you’ve maximized your major donor communications and relationships first!

Do you see more fundraising trends in 2017?  If so, add them to the comment section or email me at jim@betterfundraising.com.

Leadership in Fundraising– FREE Fundraising Training in Seattle!


We’re really excited about this upcoming training and hope you take advantage of it! Time is running out to register and space is limited so REGISTER TODAY!

We’re going to be talking about how you, as a Board Member or Executive Director, can evaluate, support and guide your organization’s fundraising program while still allowing the fundraisers to do their jobs. Most training is geared toward the front line fundraisers, but your job is to understand what a great fundraising program looks like and what to do if your organization’s fundraising isn’t effective. So if you’d like easy-t0-understand and practical advice on how to oversee a fundraising program– this training is for you!

  • WHEN: Thursday, October 20th, 2016; 9:30am-12:00pm
  • WHERE: Fulcrum Capital, 1111 Third Ave, Seattle, WA 98101

You’ll learn:

  • The two performance metrics you should focus on: net revenue and retention rate
  • The three things your organization needs to be doing, especially with Major Donors
  • How Boards can govern their organization’s fundraising but still let the fundraisers do their jobs
  • What successful donor-focused fundraising looks and sounds like

Learn more here and register Today!

Our Chance to Give Back


We’ve been incredibly fortunate to learn from fundraising mentors.  And from organizations that diligently measure the results of everything so they can see what works and what doesn’t.

On October 20th, in downtown Seattle we’re going to share it with you!

If you’re an Executive Director new to fundraising, or a Board Member of a nonprofit, we’re going to share how you can evaluate and improve your organization’s fundraising!

This is FREE seminar, with plenty of time for questions and answers at the end.  Here’s what you’ll learn:

  • The two performance metrics you should focus on: net revenue and retention rate
  • The three things your organization needs to be doing, especially with Major Donors
  • How Boards can govern their organization’s fundraising but still let the fundraisers do their jobs
  • What successful donor-focused fundraising looks and sounds like

We (Jim and Steven) will present what’s working and what’s not working in fundraising today – with real-life examples you can learn from.

We’d love to help you and your Board be more effective at governing your organization’s fundraising – and raising more money – for free!

SPACE IS LIMITED- Sign up today!

Leadership in Fundraising- FREE Fundraising Training in Seattle!


Have you ever wanted to know how to evaluate – and improve — your organization’s fundraising?

The Better Fundraising Co. is offering this FREE seminar to help Board Members and Executive Directors evaluate and improve your organization’s fundraising. October 20, 9:30am, downtown Seattle.

Most Board members and E.D.s aren’t professional fundraisers, and have to rely on gut instinct and a small handful of experiences to govern and evaluate their organization’s fundraising.  This session will teach you what you need to know to be as helpful as possible!

What you’ll learn:

  • The two performance metrics you should focus on: net revenue and retention rate
  • The three things your organization needs to be doing, especially with Major Donors
  • How Boards can govern their organization’s fundraising but still let the fundraisers do their jobs
  • What successful donor-focused fundraising looks and sounds like

We will present what’s working and what’s not working in fundraising today – with real-life examples you can learn from – so that you can be more informed, help your organization, and help raise more money. They’d love to help you and your Board be more effective at governing your organization’s fundraising – for free!

Sign up today!