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Year-end Appeals, Stories and Making a Connection

December 10, 2010

Have you noticed how more and more NPOs are beginning to get the message that their appeal letters should tell a story? Increasingly, sources are preaching that you have to tell a story and not just focus on statistics.

Statistics tend to remove the human element and often present problems from such high perspective that the average donor doesn’t feel that their $100 donation could possibly make a difference. Think along the lines of  “40 million suffering squirrels” versus “your donation of $10 can end the suffering of Sammy the Squirrel today”, and you begin to get the idea. While this is excellent advice and more orgs should be considering how to articulate the plight of their constituencies as the kinds of problems that average donors believe they can help solve, there is a danger in telling a story without making a connection with the org’s services.

This morning as I was reading through the latest batch of year-end appeals to hit the OrangeGerbera mailbox, I came across one that stood out as a great example of what I’m talking about.

The organization is highly respected for the work they do, can count us as donors and have always communicated in an appropriate way relative to their mission. The letter contained a number of things that we liked, and generally speaking, should do a fair job of helping them attract year-end donations. At least among those who have a personal connection with the organization or who already understand the connection between a donation and the services offered.

Like many other organizations, they included a personal story from a client that illustrates her personal situation and how she’s benefitted from the organization in question. Directly after the story is brief appeal to support the org and then a series of services that can be paid for with donations of varying levels. So far, so good! Really good, actually.

The problem, however, was that the story failed to mention services even remotely similar to those used for the donation levels, much less help the reader understand how a contribution of $5, $25, $100… could help others in her situation receive a similar benefit. There was simply no connection between the story and the services offered.

Ultimately, telling a story is a great approach (though don’t toss those statistics out entirely!), just be sure that the stories you do tell are relevant and help make a connection for donors as to what is being achieved with their contributions.

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