Terri Harel

How to Write a Story that Inspires Donations

“For Sale: Baby shoes, never worn.”

One part of running successful fundraising campaigns is compelling storytelling. You’re trying to activate people, not leave them reading pages upon pages (which they probably won’t do anyways), so becoming a strong short storyteller is a worthy and valuable skill.

Let’s imagine you’ve created your StayClassy account and you’re ready to start a campaign. You breeze through the campaign name, fundraising goal and dates but stop short on the campaign description. Because the description can influence whether donors give to your cause, you must think carefully about your words. You’ll have to tell a good story – empathy is the essence of why we give – and a compelling one at that. We’ve written before on the importance of language in giving (try here and here) but how about structure? How do you write a story that connects with your audience?

write a story in Classy

Short stories like the one you should tell in your campaign description give a very limited time frame to draw in readers. Each sentence – each word even – should carry meaning and is an opportunity to wow your audience. While you may be tempted to included every detail or constituent story, it’s better to choose one storyline that paints a comprehensive picture of the work you do, why you do it and why an individual should support that effort.


Even if your organization is involved in lots of different kinds of work, choose one specific program or activity to focus on. You can rewrite the campaign appeal once a quarter to reflect this diversity. You may even have different campaign pages for each activity, but either way maintaining a focus helps build a streamlined narrative.

Strong Beginning

Captivate your audience from the start, but don’t ramble on too long, or they’ll never reach other important parts of your story. Introduce a protagonist, someone your audience will want to root for, and disclose some characteristics potential donors can identify with. Remember, the protagonist doesn’t necessarily have to be one person. For example, Liberty in North Korea’s protagonist is a group of people: North Korean refugees. Here’s how they start their campaign description:

“Every year, thousands of North Koreans risk their lives to escape political persecution and economic hardship.”

In this one sentence, LiNK has established who you should be rooting for. They also get your wheels turning on how you can help alleviate some of the risk involved with escaping.

Point of Tension

Stanford marketing professor Jennifer Aaker says “Most people confuse stories with situations. They’ll tell about a situation: X happened, Y happened, Z happened. But a good story takes Y, the middle part of the story, and creates tension or conflict where the reader or the audience is drawn into the story, what’s going to happen next.”

The point of tension is the moment when you reveal a constituent’s struggle and give a sneak peak at the core of your mission, which will be fully disclosed at the end of the story. These words should be very well thought out and directed.

Let’s go back to the LiNK example. Their point of contention is only two sentences, but the risk they mentioned in their strong beginning is vivid now:

“If caught trying to escape or caught in China and sent back, they are at risk of extremely harsh punishments, including brutal beatings, forced labor, forced abortions, torture, and internment in a political prison camp. To make matters worse, while hiding in China their illegal status forces them to work in invisible industries and leaves them vulnerable to exploitation by unscrupulous employers and sex traffickers, as they have no recourse to any authorities.”

Also, align the language in these sentences with that on your website, particularly your mission statement or core values. Consistency between your branding, messaging and campaign appeal helps will help form important connections for potential donors.

Strong End

A well-written point of tension makes a strong lead-in for the end of your story. This is where you explain your mission and clarify why a potential donor needs to engage with your organization. It’s in the last couple sentences of your appeal that you state how your organization’s work, coupled with a donor’s support, helps the protagonist your reader is rooting for succeed.

“Although many refugees try to escape, many do not have the resources or connections to get themselves out of China. That’s where we come in.”

In LiNK’s story, we want to root for the North Korean people, who are risking their lives to escape oppression. Here, we learn many don’t have the resources (donations) or connections (LiNK programming) to leave the country. The organization hits home their core mission: to provide resources and connections to North Koreans seeking a better life.

Professor Aaker notes that “strong stories can be told and retold,” which is all the better in peer-to-peer fundraising. If you write a story that moves and inspires, it’s sure to be shared, recalled and amplifying your organization’s impact.

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Image Credit: Vincent Lim Show Chen

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