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The Art of Campaign Storytelling

You’re sitting at your computer. You’re staring at a blank screen where your fundraising campaign story should be. And I know what you’re thinking:

“What the *bleep* do I put in this thing?!”

There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to tell a story, but there are ‘more effective’ and ‘less effective’ ways. FundRazr has been around since 2009, and in that time, we have seen thousands of campaign stories. We took the most effective parts of these stories and smashed them together into seven steps campaign owners can easily follow.

Seven steps to an effective fundraising campaign story

We have created a roadmap of six guidelines that will help tell your story – the right story – in a powerful way. This comes from years of working with individuals and organizations on crowdfunding campaigns and noting what factors lead to success. 

At the beginning of the fundraising campaign story, you’ll have a reader.

At the end, you’ll have a donor.

I’ll use two examples to help explain these points:

Example 1: an animal shelter helping to take stray dogs from the street and put them into homes worldwide. 

Example 2: a non-profit organization helping teenagers find access to mental health programs.

STEP 1 – Start with a statement or rhetorical question that puts the reader in an agreeable, understanding frame of mind that intrigues them into reading more.

Mood is important. To turn a reader into a donor, you both need to be on the same page. Having a donor think, “Well, yes, absolutely,” or “I get your point” right at the start will increase their chances of reading further in the story. 

Example 1: Where would we be without man’s best friend? Dogs are an important part of human culture. They’re our companions, our confidants, and sometimes even our eyes and ears. 

Example 2: Navigating the world as a teenager is hard enough when you’re dealing with tons of schoolwork and awkward hormones. It’s even worse when you’re also battling stress, anxiety, depression, or any other mental health issue.

STEP 2 – What is the main focus of this fundraising campaign story? The problem. Clearly state the problem you are trying to solve.

Every campaign is about solving a problem. You, as an individual or organization, might have multiple problems working at once, but this campaign is about this problem. Utilize microprojects to break a complex problem into multiple simpler ones. Make sure to identify the situation as the problem, avoiding blame toward any individual or group of people. 

Also, identify the beneficiary, remembering there is always a ‘who.’ Be it one person, a group of people, or an animal. Emotional connection is much easier when the reader can relate to the problem.

Example 1: Hundreds of stray dogs roam the streets of New York City. Some have never known a home. These animals are not only lonely, exposed to the elements, and hungry – they spread disease, pests, and parasites to humans. 

Example 2: As COVID-19 continues to keep teenagers away from the classes, sports, and even friendships that are critical in these formative years, we are seeing an increase in cases of mental health concerns among high-school-aged students in our region.

STEP 3 – Clearly describe your solution to this problem. 

Be detailed. Use examples. Ensure your reader will understand what you will do to save the world for your beneficiary(ies). 

Example 1: Our shelter is determined to take in and match every dog we can with its ideal owner. We have an app that will match dog and owner personality profiles to ensure each dog finds a forever home. It’s like online dating for meeting your perfect dog!

Example 2: We work with each individual that asks us for help to find the best possible solution for their concerns. We will assist them with finding medical professionals and reading materials, conducting classes and programs, and providing a safe space for teens to relax in a no-judgement zone.

STEP 4 – Identify the ‘gap’ between the problem and the solution. Why haven’t you saved the world for your beneficiary yet?

I know your immediate answer to this is: “we need money.” 

Of course, you do. You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t. 

However, crowdfunding is different from traditional forms of fundraising. Big galas or tournaments hosted by well-known organizations to raise huge amounts of money that support its programs can get away without explaining their needs in detail. The online donor is a different target altogether.

Again, you compete for your reader’s attention with the rest of the internet. Plus, if you are not a well-known, established organization, you must also convince this reader that you are legitimate. 

If your answer to this question is: “We need funds to keep our programs running,” you are not emotionally connecting with your reader, nor are you providing assurance that their money is going to good use. Hard as we try, fraudulent campaigns do exist, and what you DON’T want is for your internet-savvy reader to doubt your credibility. 

Think of this as how you are getting to your solution. What is the money paying for? What do you need to do? What roadblocks are you facing (other than lack of funds!) that are preventing you from helping your beneficiary? 

Now, if your only answer is still just ‘funds,’ you’ve put too much detail into the previous point – the solution to the problem. Look at these examples, and hopefully you will see what I mean:

Example 1: Before our dogs are adopted, we ensure they are READY to be adopted. That means they’ve been spayed/neutered and had their shots, but some may require extra vet treatment, specialized training to reduce or fix reactive behaviour, plus a bath and haircut! 

Example 2: Every teen has a different need. We want to ensure we are well-prepared to handle those needs. We also want to ensure these individuals know we are there for them. This means:

  • Establishing and maintaining relationships with highly trained counsellors
  • Providing programs proven to ease symptoms of mental health, such as art and music classes, outdoor activities, and sports opportunities
  • Maintaining a comfortable facility
  • Keeping a steady stream of up-to-date information and reference materials 

STEP 5 – Describe how the donor becomes part of the fundraising campaign story and helps you save the world while trying to utilize ‘Units of Impact.’

To turn your reader into a donor, you must ensure they know the value of their donation. What impact is it going to have? A question that often runs through someone’s mind when they’re asked to donate money is, “am I actually helping, or am I just paying someone’s salary?”

Operational costs (like salaries) are necessary. We all need to eat. However, that isn’t the reason why people feel good when they donate. Being the source of the solution to your problem is why they donate. It is your job to describe exactly how that is. 

“Units of Impact” break down your needs into something relatable and lets the donor know exactly how they’ve helped. Even if they can only contribute a small sum. $10(or £ or €) may not seem like a lot in the grand scheme of things, but to your beneficiary, that can mean the world. 

This part might take some creativity. Not every organization or cause has clearly defined units of impact.

We have a full article on units of impact here, but the quick-and-easy examples are:

Example 1: Our dogs need champions! Your contribution will change an animal’s life for the better by taking him off the street and into a home where he’ll be happy, healthy, comfortable, and loved. Here is a wish list of items needed:

  • $10 donation = treats for a week of training 
  • $50 = a grooming session
  • $150 = one session with a professional trainer
  • $500 = full adoption fees for one very special needs dog who requires a specific type of home

Example 2: Your donation gives a teen somewhere to go when she has nowhere else to turn. YOU give her a safe space to talk about what she’s feeling. YOU give her an hour of time away from school stresses, playing Mario Kart in our game room with her peers. YOU give her the tools she needs to combat her anxiety. YOU give her mentorship to follow the right path for her after high school. 

STEP 6 – Identify your quid pro quo. 

Your quid pro quo is what you will give the donor in return for their contribution. This doesn’t have to be a tangible item (although that’s a bonus; people like stuff!). 

If you’re reading this and are thinking, “I have nothing to give my donors,” I have a surprise for you: You do! You have updates!

Your fundraising campaign story doesn’t end here. This is only the beginning. If someone donates to your campaign, that means they are interested in hearing what happens next. This is our “Philanthropy as Entertainment” theory.  Take a picture of the progress of that school you’re building in Kenya. Record (with permission) your friend walking into that life-saving treatment you helped her fundraise for. Describe the progress that reactive dog is having with his trainer. The story isn’t finished until you reach the end of your solution, and you and your donors will all feel more connected afterward.

Example 1: When you choose a dog to donate to, you will have the exclusive chance to follow along in his or her progress. We will update you with how they are progressing in their training, even giving you tips on how you can stop YOUR beloved pup’s less-than-desirable behaviours. 

Example 2: We value the privacy of every teenager who walks through our doors. So, in return for your donation, we will provide updates full of resources, additions or changes to our programs, games, and tons of other awesome information that YOU can use to help out the teens in YOUR life!

STEP 7 – Give a clear call to action (CTA)

This part is easy:

  1. Donate. 
  2. SHARE!!

Your reader’s power is in so much more than what they donate – it’s in who they can inspire as well. This is crowdfunding, after all, you are empowering your community to bring THEIR community to your cause.

And that is why I end this post here; if there is only one piece of advice you take away from this entire post, let it be this: do not forget to ask for the share!!

Campaign Story writing worksheet

Writing a fundraising campaign story; Part 1 – Why.

Writing a fundraising campaign story; Part 3 – How.

Need help navigating the campaign story editor?