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5 Tips for Better Storytelling in Your Year-End Appeal

Lis Martin
July 19, 2021

Guest Blog by Lis Martin, Managing Partner and Head of Content, Statement

Coming off of a pandemic-impacted fundraising cycle, the stakes are high for many nonprofits as they begin to consider year-end appeals. 30% of all annual giving happens in December. Based on 2020 Giving USA data, we can expect to see approximately $98.9 billion donated in December 2021.

With plenty of other nonprofits competing for your donors’ attention, how can you stand out during the busy year-end appeals season? As a nonprofit, brand storytelling is one of the most effective ways to drive momentum for your mission. Nonprofits tend to already have all the right components for building strong, compelling brand stories – a high-stakes mission, challenging obstacles, inspiring outcomes. That said, how you package that story for prospective donors can make or break your fundraising efforts.

At Statement, we know from years of experience that good stories engage hearts and minds to create brand advocates, not just donors. As a branding and creative marketing agency, we partner with socially conscious brands to help identify their best stories and tell them effectively. The right creative elements are key to make sure your story leaves a lasting impact.

Consider these tips for crafting your brand story into a year-end appeal that’s inspiring, compelling, and memorable.

1. Clarify the conflict (and resolution)

Every good story relies on tension between how things are and how things could be. As a nonprofit, your conflict will come from the obstacles that stand in the way of achieving your resolution (i.e., your mission). 

Donors think with their hearts first, and their minds second. They’ll feel more compelled to help when they understand how their donations will improve access, resources, and outcomes for your mission.

Create a brand story that includes a beginning, where circumstances are imperfect; a middle, where donors help your organization clear roadblocks and drive progress; and an ending in the future, where “happily-ever-after” is made possible through donor support. Back up your story with compelling statistics from your research and program impacts.

2. Identify the hero

This part is easy to define, but harder to put into action. The hero of your story is your donor, not your organization or you. While the efforts of your teams are important, donors need to know that their support makes a meaningful difference, too. Tap into the inner motivations of your unique donor base to understand how you can help them achieve their personal and professional goals, like through public recognition, networking opportunities or community influence. Use specific calls to action to remind your donor base of the outcomes brought on by their support.

3. Add people or characters

People and characters are how you make your brand story real for people who don’t see behind the curtain of your ongoing efforts. Personal stories and testimonials are especially helpful for breaking down complex concepts in ways that resonate. Which program participants, staffers, board members, partners, or other stakeholders can you feature to drive home the importance of your work and the impact you’re making?

For example, Statement worked with CURE Epilepsy to launch an impact report showcasing the nonprofit’s tireless work in epilepsy research. To make these complex research concepts real for donors, Statement wove in patient stories that clearly show why the race to find a cure for epilepsy is so critical.

4. Choose your format

Some stories are novels, others are picture books – so how will you deliver your nonprofit’s story? To choose the best format (or formats) for your appeal, consider your most compelling multimedia assets and the preferences of your target donors: 

  • Video, audio, photos and/or graphics?
  • Print mailer, PDF report, presentation or website?
  • Received by mail, email or in person?

For example, when Purple Asparagus wanted to inspire support for its mission to teach nutrition to children in schools, Statement worked with Evolve to reimagine the typical appeal letter as a recipe card. The fun, offbeat approach highlighted Purple Asparagus’ personality and helped the ask to stand out in a sea of appeals. 

5. Don't forget the sequel

How often are you talking to donors beyond appeal time? Reaching out to your audience just once a year leaves opportunities for support, advocacy and loyalty on the table. Continuous communications are key to keeping donors engaged in your mission and your story. And it doesn’t have to all revolve around donations. Find ways to bring your donors into your organization more deeply through networking, volunteering and partnership.

No matter where you are in your appeal process, remember that your donors are people just like you. They want to hear a good story, connect with a positive community and drive meaningful impact with their time and resources. A year-end appeal that considers their needs and values, while showcasing all the good you’re doing, will tell a powerful story that can win the support you need.

Want to take our storytelling tips with you? Get our guide to year-end appeals as a printable PDF.