How to Tell Unfinished Stories

How to Tell Unfinished Stories

I’m going to tell you something that is counter to what most nonprofits think.

But it’s tested and proven. Hundreds of times for hundreds of organizations, large and small. Here it is:

If you want to raise the most money, tell a story that is not finished and ask the donor to finish it with a gift today.

That’s a bit conceptual so here’s an example. Most fundraising appeals tell stories that go something like this:

“Lisa was homeless and in dire straits. But thanks to our 4-step program, Lisa is doing great today. Will you please give a gift to help us continue this good work?”

Notice how Lisa’s story is finished? She’s already been helped. The only role for the donor to play is to ‘help the organization continue the work.’

We talk about this in detail in our free ebook on storytelling that we’re launching soon, but that type of story works OK at best. Your best donors might give to it. But most of your donors won’t.

If you want to raise more money — and catch the attention of more people — tell an unfinished story of need like this:

“Lisa is homeless and in dire straits. Will you please give a gift today to help her stay in our shelter?”

Do you see the difference? Lisa still needs help! The donor feels that and sees exactly how a gift today will help Lisa.

Lisa’s story is unfinished, so your donor has a role to play. And your donor sees how her gift will do something simple and powerful — providing a night of shelter — which donors love.

Here’s another way to think about it:

  • Most nonprofits ask donors to help them do more of what the nonprofit has already done.
  • What works better in fundraising is to ask donors to help people who have not yet been helped or are currently being helped.

The is one of the fundamental principals we teach in our training on how to Ask powerfully. Use it in your next appeal and watch your results soar!

This post was originally published in July 2017.


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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