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Your fundraising impact stories need THIS to resonate with donors...

Published 10 months agoΒ β€’Β 5 min read

We're mesmerized by donor newsletter stories today! This is the 90th issue of the Fundraising Writing Newsletter. If something in here makes you do a double take, please forward to a delightful colleague. Thank you! (Delightful colleagues can ​subscribe here for free.)

In this issue:

  • Your fundraising impact stories need THIS to resonate with donors...
  • Are you a Tom Ahern or Rachel Muir superfan? Grab the early bird pricing (before it ends Friday midnight) for Tom's webby all about donor newsletters (digital & print)
  • Randomly yours: to inspire and recharge you

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

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"Read it again, Mommy! Again!

Ah. I do so fondly remember my kids eagerly pleading for just one more bedtime story β€” sometimes, even asking for the same story on repeat.

Can you recall those days, Reader, either from your own childhood or from your experience as a caregiver or parent? (Or perhaps this is right now for you, with a lovely little one?)

Children have an undeniable love for stories, and bedtime tales rightly hold a special place in many families' hearts. There are countless reasons to preserve this cherished tradition. I bet you can think of a few, at least, off the top of your head.

Cutting to the chase: I'm going to come clean today. 🫣

While reading aloud to my kids at bedtime, I occasionally turned several pages at once, hoping to speed up the story's progress β€” ultimately shortening the time until we exchanged our final "goodnights" for the evening.

Me, as I typed that last paragraph:

In my defense, balancing a career while parenting 4 young children made me crazy-tired by nightfall. That's not a good defense, is it? Okay. That's fair. I never said I was perfect!

And here's the thing, I'll admit:

My kids didn't want the first couple of page followed by "happily ever after." They craved a complete story to feel satisfied and ready to drift off to sleep.

In fact, they desired the same thing your donors seek when they read the stories of impact in your newsletters and other reporting-back communications. πŸ‘‡πŸ‘‡


Your fundraising impact stories need THIS to resonate with donors...

Donors β€” like children absorbed by bedtime stories β€” long to feel all the feelings. πŸ’”β€οΈ

This means people can't truly feel satisfied with a story's successful ending (i.e., feel the impact they helped to create) unless they first grapple with the challenges and hardships faced by the person in the story.

Imagine if these popular movies glossed over the struggles of the main character:

Star Wars β€” If we only saw Luke Skywalker successfully blowing up the Death Star without first witnessing his journey of self-discovery, his training with Obi-Wan Kenobi, and the sacrifices made by his friends and allies, the victory at the end would feel vastly less significant and triumphant.

It's a Wonderful Life β€” If this classic Christmas film simply only showed George Bailey realizing how important his life is without first presenting the struggles he faced (his financial troubles, the sacrificing of his big dreams, and the prospect of losing his family), the emotional impact of the story's resolution would be wildly diminished.

The Shawshank Redemption β€” If we only saw Andy Dufresne escaping from the Shawshank prison and living a free life in Zihuatanejo without first witnessing the years of abuse, corruption, and injustice he faced, his ultimate triumph and hard-won freedom would be immeasurably less compelling.

It's the same with the impact stories in your donor newsletters:
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​Don't forget to properly recap the "BEFORE" story before showcasing the "AFTER" story.


Here's how to write more effective impact stories for your newsletters and other reporting-back communications:

First, take a look at the narrative arc of a typical story:

Now, let's break the story arc in half. Below you'll see the first half of the arc. This is the part of the story you tell in your appeals. Your story stops right before the transformation. It’s where you turn to the donor and ask for a gift to help people like the person in your story.

Your newsletter's story of impact β€” on the other hand β€” should encompass the full narrative, not just the latter half.

To create a compelling and engaging story, it's crucial that you first show the problems and challenges of the person to build the "drama" of the story. The donor needs to feel the pain and understand the context and the stakes to be fully engaged.

Many nonprofit newsletter stories barely touch upon the challenges faced by the person in the story, often merely with a single sentence. This approach falls far short of good storytelling for an impact story.

To truly resonate with your supporters in your newsletters, you need to "break their heart" (so to speak) before healing it. This method ensures that your donors experience a profound sense of fulfillment, really feeling and understand the difference they made in someone's life.

You may be asking: How much of the "before" story should I retell in an impact story in a newsletter?

Here's your answer:

As a general guide, you'll want at least 50% of the words in the newsletter impact piece to be the β€œbefore” part of the story (the story of need).

The remaining 50% (or so) of the words should tell the story of transformation that occurred β€” thanks to the donor working together with you!

You may also be asking: Can I see an example?

You betcha! I pulled an emailed impact story (an e-story) that Brett and I wrote; and now I'll break it down for you. Click here to see the example.

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Remember: To help your donors truly FEEL the impact of their generosity, share the entire story (including both the "before" and "after" parts) in your print newsletters and digital e-stories. This way, you'll create a much more powerful and engaging connection between your donors and your cause! πŸ’›

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🐦 Are you a Tom Ahern or Rachel Muir superfan? Grab the early bird pricing (before it ends Friday midnight) for Tom's webby all about donor newsletters (digital & print)

In just a SINGLE intense super-sized 1.5-hour webinar (PLUS "All-You-Can-Eat" Q&A session) ... Tom Ahern will show you how to turn your organization's newsletter into a powerful stewardship tool that will increase donor retention and harvest added gifts! Also: Tom's special guest is the one-and-only Rachel Muir, CFRE (trainer, keynote speaker, nonprofit founder).

You early birds can get the worm ... but discount worms run out fast. Find out more and register here.
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Randomly yours: to inspire and recharge you

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


Until next time: May you always help your donors truly FEEL the impact of their generosity in your wonderful (and complete!) newsletter stories.

All our best,

PS: Hey β€” here's the latest in our weekly video series, Win It in a Minute. You can subscribe here.

In this video, Tom answers the question:

"Tom, what is the curse of knowledge and how might someone try to fight this curse in their fundraising?"

video preview

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Subscribe to the Fundraising Writing Newsletter

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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