Three Questions to Get the Best Newsletter Stories

Questions and stories.

Want to write newsletter stories that show your donors the incredible impact they have had on your beneficiaries?

It’s easy, and I’m going to show you how.  But first you need to know one thing…

Most donors give because they want to make change.  They want the world to be noticeably different and better because of their gift. 

The best way to show donors the change that their gift made is to clearly demonstrate what the beneficiary’s life was like before and after the donor’s gift (and your organization) helped them.

Here are three questions you can ask a beneficiary that will give you everything you need to write a story that will make your donors feel amazing:

  1. What was your life like before <your organization/program/staff> helped you?
  2. What is your life like now because of the help you received?
  3. If you could say anything to thank donors who gave to support <your organization>, what would you tell them?

Ask these three questions and you’ll have a story that shows the change the donor’s gift help make.

By telling stories like this when you “report back” to your donors, you’ll build trust because your donors will see that their gifts cause change.  And because of that, they’ll be more likely to say “yes” the next time you ask for support in an appeal.

Which story are you telling?


Better Fundraising recently decided to sponsor the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference this fall.  (You should go!)  So lately I’ve been thinking a lot about storytelling.

I’ve noticed that when most nonprofits are thinking about “storytelling” in their fundraising, they are thinking about one of two stories:

  1. The story of a beneficiary.  You’ve seen loads of appeals like this: they focus on the story of one beneficiary who has already been helped, then ask the donor to support the work of the organization.  The storytelling focus is on the beneficiary.  Or…
  2. The story of the organization.  You’ve seen fundraising materials like this, too; they focus on what services the organization provides, what year the organization was founded, and what the organization believes.  The storytelling focus is on the organization itself. 

At Better Fundraising, we advise our clients not to tell either of those stories.

Instead, we help our clients tell “the story of the difference the donor’s gift will make.”  The storytelling focus is on the change that will happen when a donor gives a gift.

At its simplest, it looks like this; “Right now things are X, but if you give a gift they will be Y.”  Doing this well helps your donors to see and (more importantly) feel the difference their gift will help make.

Telling the story of “the difference that the donor’s gift will make” is a fundamentally different story than most organizations tell.  It results in fundamentally different appeals.

And those appeals raise significantly more money.

Ask yourself if the storytelling in your appeals is mostly about your beneficiaries or your organization.  If you’d like to raise more with your appeals, try an appeal that focuses on the difference a donor can make if they send in a gift.

How to Increase Your Email Open Rate by 14%

Email Open Rates.

A client of ours started sending monthly “e-stories” last November. And since November, their average email open rate has increased from 24% to 38%.

Most organizations would sacrifice a Board member for a 14% increase in open rates!

So you might ask, “What’s an e-story?”

An e-story is a low-fi, simply-formatted email from your E.D. to your donors. It tells one “before and after” story.

Here’s the outline:

  1. Warm, personal greeting
  2. Directly tell the donor that you are going to tell them a story that’s a good example of how their gift made a difference
  3. Tell a “before and after” story from your organization’s work
  4. Reaffirm to the donor that they helped make that ‘before and after’ happen
  5. Let the donor know that they can give again if they’d like to
  6. Thank the donor for their generosity

You want your e-stories to look like they came from your E.D.’s personal email. No formatting, no header image, no photo, no links to social, you get it.

It should feel personal.

Why E-stories?

Most “reporting” to donors via email answers questions that nobody is asking.

Typical “e-news” or “e-newsletters” have abysmal open rates. No one was reading them.

So how can organizations fulfill the need to “report back on a donor’s gift” via email?

If they aren’t reading the e-newsletters, that means e-newsletters aren’t relevant for most donors.

So we asked ourselves, “What would be relevant to most donors?”

Telling and showing the donor that their gift made a difference.

The Results

Your e-stories will raise more money than your e-newsletter.

Your e-stories will have higher open rates than your e-newsletter.

Your e-stories will cause more engagement than your e-newsletter (you’ll know this because of the replies and feedback you’ll receive).

Some organizations have been able to cease their e-newsletter all together. (And there was much rejoicing!)


It all comes down to relevance. The organization I mentioned found that e-stories contained information that was relevant to their donors. (After all, donors want to know what their gift did more than they want to know what your organization is up to.)

When the content of the email was more relevant, more people opened the emails. And now, because their donors are more likely to find relevant content in their emails, their donors open all of their emails at a higher rate.

You can guess what’s going to happen next:

More relevant emails → higher open rates

Higher open rates → more people reading their fundraising

More people reading their fundraising → more people giving

More people giving → more mission work done!

Go look at your organization’s email communications. Are you reporting in a powerful, relevant way? If not, add a few e-stories. You’ll be glad you did!

Note: if you want me to walk you through creating an e-story (or donor reporting letter) for your organization, there’s inexpensive training at Work Less Raise More.

The #1 Story that Raises the Most Money [VIDEO]

Money ideas.

I think this is the most helpful video I’ve ever made.

If you’d like to know how to:

  • Tell stories in your appeals, e-appeals and events so that more donors will respond
  • Tell stories so that your donors become more bonded to your organization
  • Tell stories so that you raise more money
  • Say what’s needed when sharing this thinking with the people in your organization who don’t like powerful fundraising

It’s all in there. Take a look!

10 Great Questions to Help You Collect Better Stories


As you know from our involvement with the upcoming Storytelling Conference, we believe storytelling in your fundraising can be very effective. A good story will help to support your fundraising offer and connect your donor to what your nonprofit does.

There’s good reason for this, too. Telling stories is what humans do best. Ever since we were drawing pictures onto the side of rocks, storytelling has been our go-to form of communication. With a good story, we’re able to share our passions, our hardships, and our joys. It’s often the best way to explain how things work, how we make decisions, how we persuade others.

For us fundraisers, a good story is vital to engaging our donors. A moving story, if told simply and well, will invoke emotion and motivate her to give. But putting a story together is not always easy. Especially when you’re dealing with beneficiaries who may be embarrassed, shy, or reluctant to share about the difficulties they’ve faced.

So how can you collect the information you need to tell a compelling story in your fundraising communications?

To collect a good fundraising story (including emotional quotes that you can use to help the donor feel something) you need to first see several sides of the beneficiary. And one great way to do that is to interview a beneficiary in person, over the phone, or via email.

But it’s not just a matter of asking them to “tell their story.” You need to ask specific questions that are worded and framed correctly. Do this, and you will get the responses you need.

To help you get started, here are 10 interview questions I’ve used to get great responses from beneficiaries. If you end up using any of these questions, make sure that you adjust the wording to suit your cause and your nonprofit.

  • Tell me your first memory of (what your nonprofit prevents or supports)?
  • What did you find most challenging about (the cause)?
  • What was the best/worst thing to happen?
  • What would someone be surprised to know about you?
  • Tell me how you first got involved with (your nonprofit)
  • What did you think when you first met (your nonprofit)?
  • Tell me how (your nonprofit) helped you
  • If you hadn’t met (your nonprofit) what do you think your life would be like?
  • What does your future look like now?
  • If you had the chance to say something to those who have helped you, what would it be?

You can also pepper any answers with follow up questions like, “What makes you say that? Can you give me an example? How did that make you feel?”

Stories inspire us to act. So whatever it is that your organization does for others – providing food, clothing, safe housing, safety, or spiritual support – capturing and then telling a beneficiary story can support your offer and help you raise more money.

Happy Fundraising!

The type of story that raises the most money [VIDEO]

Telling a story on how to raise money.

There’s a type of story that works incredibly well to raise money…

…an incomplete story with a current need.

Here’s a video I recorded last year with Chris Davenport from the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference that explains what I mean.

There are two reasons this video is helpful:

  1. We talk about why telling “incomplete” stories is so successful when Asking your donors for gifts
  2. I share how to tell an incomplete story, with a specific example. Chris posted the video just yesterday morning, and he’s already getting feedback on how helpful the example is.

Watch the video! It’s 11 minutes long, but it goes fast. And the ideas I share will jumpstart your fundraising this fall!

One final thing to mention: I’ll be speaking at the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference this fall in San Diego (November 2-4). And you can save $400 if you take advantage of the Early Bird special until tomorrow, September 15th.

Helpful New Book/Tool for Fundraisers

Every once in a while, something crosses my desk that I think would be helpful to a lot of Fundraisers.

This is one of those times – and it’s free!

There’s a new book out called “Story Prompts for Nonprofits.” It’s written by Chris Davenport, the founder of the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference.

This book will be incredibly helpful if you’ve ever struggled with writer’s block, or had a fundraising brainstorming meeting that didn’t go anywhere. (I think it’s more of a “helpful tool” than a book, which you’ll see in a second.)

It’s a free download. Or you can buy a physical copy for $20.

To give you a better sense of why I think of this as a “tool” you’ll keep within reach on your desk, here’s the description: “900+ storytelling prompts for attracting new donors, generating media buzz, connecting with your community, and deepening relationships with donors!”

The story prompts are categorized by nonprofit sector, by types of beneficiaries, and by the types of help that an organization provides.

I think that’s remarkably helpful because one thing I always hear is, “I see lots of examples of fundraising for organizations that feed and house people, but that’s not what we do and I don’t know what will work for what we do!”

I obviously can’t promise that your exact sector and program activities are covered in this book. But there are more than 900 prompts, and I’m sure you’ll find more prompts that apply to you and your organization’s work than you’ll need in a year.

If you’ve ever wondered which of your stories to tell to engage, inspire and cause action in your donors, I think this book will help!

Hello from San Antonio!

BF Team photo.

The team from Better Fundraising and I wanted to say “Hi!” from the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference here in San Antonio!

If you’re here, please come and say hello. If you’re not here, I hope you can make plans to come to next year’s conference in San Diego.

If you were expecting a blog today and would still like to read one, here are a couple of posts that can make a real difference in your fundraising:

Your Fundraising IS the Relationship

The Gap and The Gift

I have to run and give a session. Thanks for being a Fundraiser!

Outline for Newsletter Stories


Here’s the outline we follow for newsletter stories.

It’s remarkably simple and it does two powerful things:

  1. It makes your newsletter easier and faster to write because you have a model to follow
  2. It makes sure each story helps you achieve the purpose of your newsletter

Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?

Simple Newsletter Outline


  • Summarize the situation the beneficiary was in
  • Tell the donor the situation changed because of them
  • Summarize the positive situation the beneficiary is in today


  • Tell the beneficiary’s “story” as above, but go into more depth


  • Thank the donor for making the transformation (from “before” to “after”) possible
  • Thank the donor for caring about the beneficiary enough to take action to help

The Power of This Approach

When you use this approach, your donor does not have to read more than the first paragraph to get your newsletter’s main message; that the donor’s gift made a meaningful difference in the life of one person or for your cause.

At Better Fundraising, we assume that 80% of the people who open your newsletter will only read the headlines, picture captions, and a paragraph or two. For those people (4 out of 5!) you want to do everything you can to ensure they still get your main message.

Other nonprofits will make their donors wade through tons of words to find out whether donors’ gifts made a difference. Sometimes the donor will never find out. I’ve seen newsletters where the donor is never even be mentioned.

But by following this model, you and your organization will communicate your main message to almost every person who opens your newsletter. That’s a huge win!

Repeat This Formula in Every Story

When a donor opens your newsletter you don’t know which story (or stories) they are going to read. So you want to use this formula for every story so – whatever they read – they get message that their gift made a difference.

This approach will feel repetitive to you – who sees every story. But vast majority of your donors won’t read every story.

It will feel repetitive to your staff and core stakeholders like your board because are far more likely than most donors to open every newsletter and read every story.

But Remember …

Your newsletter is not for you, your staff, or for your core stakeholders. It’s a communication vehicle to show the remaining 95% of your donors that their gift made a meaningful difference.

Why is showing donors that they made a meaningful difference so important?

So that they trust that giving a gift to your organization makes a real difference.

So that they are more likely to give you a gift the next time you ask.

So that they are more likely to keep giving to you year after year.

So that they are more likely to become a major donor.

So that they are more likely to leave you a gift in their will.

So … no pressure … but make sure your newsletter shows each donor that their gift made a meaningful difference. And one of the most powerful ways to do that is to write the stories following this outline.

This post was originally published on March 3, 2020. Get a free downloadable “e-book” of this whole series here.