From fishing trips to lazy days on the beach, summer adventures generate tons of stories to share around the water cooler. Somehow, these stories never get old. And telling them is never hard.
But what about the stories you’ll tell to inspire your supporters in your upcoming fall appeal—and the rest of the year for that matter? Why do these stories sometimes seem so much harder to tell? Or often feel so monotonous?
The key is remembering that your communications with your supporters—even your appeals—are part of a larger relationship. That means that no one story needs to capture your organization in its entirety, any more than your personal tale about your camping trip conveys your whole life story and philosophy.
In fact, vignettes rich in specific detail are often more interesting than an all-encompassing epic.
Below are a few of our favorite story angles, using the work we’ve done for one of our amazing clients—the Israel Guide Dog Center—as illustration. Of course, not all angles will be appropriate for all types of organizations, but hopefully you’ll find some inspiration for your next letter.
1. Client Story: From success stories to back stories, tell tales that stand out and offer a fresh perspective on your work or who you serve.
Your clients –however you define them – are the #1 reason you exist. Their experience is the driving force behind your community’s support.
Clients, and their stories, are as unique and individual as fingerprints. Despite that, talking about outcomes can sometimes feel repetitive. Rather than narrating as if your client is the recipient of your process, find something distinctive about her story and the aspect of your program that met her needs in a unique way.
In the appeal highlighted below, we shared the unbelievable event that left Ruth in need of a guide dog, and how the generosity of donors guided her back to a life of joy and independence.
2. Program Story: Highlight one aspect, component or phase of your program at a time through one protagonist’s experience.
An appeal with a laundry list of programs you offer can feel generic and overwhelming. But for long-term supporters, stories highlighting different aspects of your program—shared one at a time throughout your relationship—can build their understanding of who you are and what you do.
The protagonist in your story doesn’t just have to be a client—it could be a staff member, a volunteer, a donor or a whole class—anyone whose perspective can evoke emotion about the importance of your existence.
Over the years we’ve highlighted the Israel Guide Dog Center’s preschool partnership from the perspective of client who wished it had existed in his time, the puppy-raising phase of their work through the eyes of a volunteer puppy-raiser, shown below, and the four-week training course during which a client and their new guide dog learn to work together, told from the vantage point of an entire class.
3. Facility Advantages/Construction/Improvement Story: Tell the story of your facility through the lens of one of its occupants or beneficiaries.
Rather than just describe a facility under construction or the unique advantages your program’s facilities offer, take your reader on a walk through a day, a stay or an experience at your facility through the eyes of one of its occupants or beneficiaries.
In the letter and insert below, we highlighted the unique advantages of the new and improved streetscape constructed as part of the Israel Guide Dog Center’s new Puppy Development and Training Center, drawing on the emotional connection between the client experience and the benefits the facility offers.
4. Critical Situation or Urgent Need: Highlight a critical situation or one of your urgent needs using a recent event.
While all of your appeals should express urgency, the fact that your organization needs money is not a motivator. People don’t want to fund your existence, they want to fund their impact. A recent event or situation can often provide story material that further heightens a sense of timely importance.
In the letter shown below, we told the story of one of the Israel Guide Dog Center’s clients whose guide dog died suddenly, resulting in the critical need for a replacement dog. Because of ongoing donor support, Zohar was able to get immediate help to maintain his independence.
5. The Forgotten or Hidden Aspects of Your Work: Tell a story that shows the extent of your expertise or the true scope of your work.
Do you provide ongoing support that gets overlooked? Do your faculty members do amazing research during their breaks that lend credibility to your role as a leader in the field? Do you run workshops to share your knowledge with others in your field? Does your food pantry maintain a compost pile for food it can’t use that feeds a community garden?
Many of the Israel Guide Dog Center’s supporters don’t realize they’re not only helping provide guide dogs to more people who need them, but also providing ongoing support for the center’s growing client base, which includes replacing retiring and deceased guide dogs, as the below appeal demonstrates. The appeal insert draws attention to the world-class level of psychological preparation the center provides clients for coping with the grief of retiring their dogs.
The #1 starting point for weaving engaging tales is constantly listening for interesting stories. Kudos to our friends at the Israel Guide Dog Center for doing just that. A great partnership creates powerful results!
Could your next next appeal benefit from this kind of support? Let us help you find that special story and package it perfectly for your donors. Give us a call at 267-468-7949 or drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.