Creating Tension or Revealing Tension?


I was speaking with a founder of a nonprofit recently, and she said something that was so good I knew I had to share it with you…

We were talking about sharing the needs of beneficiaries in appeals and e-appeals. I shared that we believed in sharing those needs, even though sometimes doing so made donors uncomfortable. Her reply was fantastic:

She knew those stories sometime caused tension in donors, she said.

Then she continued…

“When we nonprofits tell a story that shares the needs of a beneficiary, we don’t create the tension that the donor feels. The story just reveals the internal tension the donor holds between how the world is and how they believe the world should be.”

I love that! It jives with how I’ve always felt: great-performing appeals remind a donor that “something’s not right in the world, but it could be if you help.”

And it hints at why sharing the need is so effective in appeals and e-appeals: it taps into something the donor already knows and feels.

No education is needed. No programs or processes need to be discussed.

It’s like a shortcut to the donor’s heart. To what she cares about most.

Your donors want to make the world a better place. So share “stories of need” in your appeals and newsletters. (Save your “stories of triumph” for your newsletters and other Reporting tactics.)

Use a story to remind your busy donors that the problem your organization is addressing is affecting people right now, today. And that their gift will make a meaningful difference.

When you do, more donors will exercise their values by giving a gift through your organization.

And later – in separate communications – be sure to remind your donors of the good that their gift and your organization has done. Because if you’re going to reveal the tension, you should also reveal the triumph.

Organizations that only do one or the other aren’t raising as much money and doing as much good as they could be.


Steven Screen is Co-Founder of The Better Fundraising Company and lead author of its blog. With over 25 years' fundraising experience, he gets energized by helping organizations understand how they can raise more money. He’s a second-generation fundraiser, a past winner of the Direct Mail Package of the Year, and data-driven.

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