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Turn your fundraising stories from mundane to magical ✨✨

Published 6 months agoΒ β€’Β 5 min read

Let's wave our magic wands πŸͺ„ because we're about to transform your year-end appeal story from ho-hum to awesome! This is the 109th issue of the Fundraising Writing Newsletter. If you find any glass slippers here, please tell your fundraising friends. (Your fundraising friends can ​subscribe here for free.)​

In this issue:

  • Turn your fundraising stories from mundane to magical ✨✨
  • Randomly yours: to inspire and recharge you
  • Win It in a Minute: New Canva AI Tools

Wednesday, October 11, 2023


Hi Reader,

Lemme lay this story on you . . .

Once upon a time, there was a girl named Cinderella. She lived with her stepmother and stepsisters. They were mean to her. One day, she went to a ball, met a prince, and lost a shoe. The prince found her using the shoe. They lived happily ever after.

Boring you much? 😴 πŸ’€

Let's try again with another approach:

In a grand house bathed in morning light, Cinderella's stepsisters laughed at her, snatching away a bright blue ribbon that once belonged to her late mother. As it fluttered just out of reach, tears filled Cinderella's eyes. That ribbon was more than just a pretty accessory; it was a whisper of love from a time long past. Alone in the room's shadow, Cinderella wished for a single moment where she felt cherished and not invisible.

More engaging, right?

The first narrative is a simple recounting of events that lacks emotional depth. It "tells" you what happened.

The second narrative, however, "shows" a poignant moment in Cinderella's life, helping you feel her emotions and better understand her plight.

By focusing on this moment, the second narrative draws you in, making you more invested in Cinderella's story and eliciting a more profound emotional response.

This is the essence of effective fundraising storytelling: not presenting facts like a journalist but highlighting moments that help donors feel and care.

And since it's the time of year when you or a colleague is writing the year-end appeal, it's high time we...

Turn your fundraising stories from mundane to magical ✨✨

Take a look at the draft of your year-end appeal. (If you haven't tackled it yet, grab your last appeal.)

If yours is like so many other appeals Brett and I have reviewed recently, it may well present the story in a flat, uninspired, sequential manner.

We call this journalistic approach the "this-then-that" default crutch. It's as if the writer has reviewed her notes and said, "Let's see what we've got here" and then automatically presented everything in order:

  • This thing happened.
  • Then that thing happened.
  • Then that other thing happened.

Unfortunately, this approach often results in an uninspiring narrative because it’s just a series of events. It can work if you're extremely lucky in that all your notes are filled with only the most wonderful details.

More likely, you are listing a whole lot of nothing-surprising.

Of course, we want to give the donor a compelling story that makes them feel some kind of way they weren't expecting. A kind of way that helps them decide to give.

But how?

We need to...

Find a "magic moment" in the story

A magic moment is a detail in a fundraising story that makes the story truly special.

-----> It's an emotional tug . . . at which you might even lose your breath.

Make it your mission to find these moments! In your interviews and your conversations with beneficiaries, keep digging until you find them β€” then don't forget to write them down in detail!

What's so wonderful is that a magic moment can be positioned as the guiding light of the story, with the fundraising message built around it.

A magic moment can be a powerful emotional hook for the appeal too. I'll show you how. But first, some background to set the scene.

A few weeks ago, Brett and I interviewed two parents for a year-end fundraising appeal. The couple's 9-year-old son tragically drowned during a friend's birthday party. (As a mother myself, it was hard to type that sentence. Deep breath.)

Brett and I could have come away from the interview with the typical facts one might use in a fundraising appeal:

  • son tragically drowns
  • parents are filled with debilitating grief and guilt
  • friends, family, and the local community support them in many ways
  • but they need something more, and that's where the nonprofit's services come in.

We could have told these basic story details with a this-than-that approach.

Instead, during the Zoom interview, Brett latched onto one small thing the boy's mother said. It was a detail that made Brett's eyes go wide and his body lean closer to the screen.

Brett must have asked 5 additional questions relating to this one detail, digging in to learn all he could.

That one detail was a magic moment. It became "the way in" to the appeal letter and guided the narrative.

Read the beginning of the letter to see how this special detail, the magic moment, was written (by Brett):

Daniel's "Ultimate Life Plan" became the emotional detail that set the rest of the appeal in motion. πŸ’™

3 Strategies for finding a "magic moment" in a fundraising story

Remember, the idea is to find that one element, detail, or moment that makes the narrative truly exceptional and evokes strong emotions from the donor.

Here are 3 strategies that can help you capture it.


πŸ’¬ Ask open-ended questions. These allow for more comprehensive answers. For instance, β€œHow did you feel when…?” or β€œWhat was going through your mind when…?”

🀫 Leave space for silent moments: Often, people fill silence with more details or reflect more deeply on their experiences.

πŸ‘οΈ Prompt imagery and emotion: Encourage the interviewee to describe sensory details β€” especially sights and sounds β€” as well as what they were feeling. E.g., β€œCan you describe what it looked like?” and β€œWhat else could you hear?” and β€œWhat thoughts were going through your head?” and β€œWhat were you feeling in that moment?”



πŸ”Ž Look at the story through a new lens. Sometimes, by going back over significant events or turning points in your story notes and viewing them from a different perspective, you can uncover a previously overlooked magic moment.



If you didn't do the interview, consider this strategy:

πŸͺ© Review and reflect: Begin by studying the original interview materials, noting gaps and emotional touchpoints.

☎️ In-depth discussion: Meet with the interviewer to glean insights on non-verbal cues, the interview setting, personal emotional reactions, and any off-the-record moments or observations.

* * *

Half the battle is adopting a magical moment mindset β€” so, you're at least halfway there!

Here's to swiftly conquering the other half . . . and leveling up as a storytelling detective, ever ready to unearth those all-important β€œmagic moments!” ✨✨

Randomly yours: to inspire and recharge you

For your brain, heart, and funny bone...

  • Subjectively Compelling β€” Secrets for Effective Fundraising Subject Lines by James Herlihy (a Moceanic blog post that can help you write irresistible subject lines β€”using an array of approaches from urgency πŸ•’ to humor πŸ˜‚ β€” so you can make every email count)
  • Plainly Said β€” Brain Science of Gratitude by Danielle Wallace (a LinkedIn video offering an outstanding overview of how neuroscience intersects with gratitude and storytelling)​
  • Sisterly Groovy β€” Want You Back by HAIM (a 4-minute one-shot music video of the Haim sisters doing some lightly choreographed street jamming β€” which just might make your day a little more fun)
  • Inspiringly Sound β€” Fundraising Writing Playlist compiled by Julie via Spotify (a set of 13 songs to get your heart thumping while cranking out some year-end donor communications)​

Until next time: May you embrace each story with an open heart, tune your ears to the whispers of magic, and find that enchanting moment in every story you write. βœ¨πŸ“–βœ¨


PS: Our previous newsletter update about AI in fundraising writing was well received. We're glad to hear so many of you are looking to stay ahead of the curve on this.

In that tech-embracing spirit, here's another mini update for you:

Last week, Canva launched Magic Studio, bringing together top AI-powered tools for you and your team right inside your familiar Canva workspaces!

​Watch this video I made demoing one of Canva's new AI tools, Magic Expand. If you've ever had an almost-perfect photo but it was not oriented the way you needed for a website, email header, social media post, or direct mail piece, this tool is for you! You can now extend an image in any direction β€” in seconds β€” for the perfect photo! 🀩

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Hi! We're Julie Cooper and Brett Cooper, fundraising copywriters for great causes. Does your fundraising bring in as much money as it could? You can send donor communications that stir hearts to action. We'd love to help. πŸ’› Start by subscribing to our FREE weekly newsletter.

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