Terri Harel

Turn Your Raw Data Into Compelling Stories

Cold, hard facts don’t make people feel warm and fuzzy.

This may sound obvious, but it creates a problem for nonprofit fundraisers trying to persuade potential supporters to take action. In recent years, donors are have become more discerning in choosing where to give, and specific facts about your cause and impact can lend credibility to your organization. However, research has shown that using statistics to demonstrate the scope of a problem may actually result in apathy and inaction (a concept sometimes known as psychic numbing). So how do you use facts about your cause to create compelling appeals?

The Three Steps of Turning a Fact into an Appeal

  • Start With an Attention-grabbing Fact
  • Follow-up With a Compelling Story
  • Ask for Help
  • Show the Evidence, Appeal to the Heart

    Psychologists have theorized that charitable donations are closely tied to a donor’s emotional reaction, but in today’s data-driven society donors also want to know why they should give. A good appeal will include the evidence behind your ask, but frame it in a way that is personal and real to the donor.

    If your cause can be summed up in a troubling or shocking statistic, this might be the beginning of an appeal – but only the beginning. Use the fact as a title or headline and then take a magnifying glass to it. An attention-grabbing fact or statistic will hopefully get people to pay attention at the beginning of your story, but as this article illustrates, readers lose interest quickly. You need to give them a story, and fast!

    The very least you need for a story is a subject, a setting, and a conflict. The reader needs to know who this is story about, where they are, and what problem (related to your headline) they are facing. If you can provide all of that in the first paragraph, you’re on your way to crafting a great appeal. Take this example:

    [pullquote1 align=”center”]1 in 5 Children Faces Hunger at Home

    “In a suburb of Indianapolis, Brian put on his coat and left for school, his stomach growling. His family never thought they would experience food insecurity.” [/pullquote1]

    Once you have shown donors the scope of the problem and the individuals it affects, you will satisfy their need for evidence and create an emotional response, which research suggests is linked to generosity. Now it’s time for your call-to-action.

    Show Donors What They Can Do

    A great way to explain both what your organization does and how a donor can help is by creating an appeal that ties a donation size with its impact. When you apply for grant-funding, you tell the source how you would use the money so why not do the same for individual donors?

    A suggested gift size is another opportunity to use data from your programs to engage donors, and to direct funds in your most needy programs. You probably already have data on the dollar amount it takes to complete program X. Most organizations know the costs of carrying out their programs – $10 a month to send a child to school, $500 to train a teacher for a year, $1,000 to build a school, and so on. Take the data you have, and craft this into your appeal. Sister India cleverly translates the $30 it costs to send a student to school for a year into a “comparative” that might convince a site visitor to donate the full tuition amount.

    Sister India’s call-to-action explains that the $30 you might spend on a manicure or a t-shirt could fund an entire year-long literacy course. The organization uses the same strategy in its fundraising CTA, by incorporating the fact that the $300 you might easily raise from convincing 10 friends to give up their $30 manicures transforms the lives of 10 whole families. There are a lot of interesting ways to utilize data you already track to craft motivating and activating appeals – get creative and conduct experiments to find out what appeals work best for your organization.

    When someone gives to your cause, they eventually have to settle on a dollar amount. Instead of presenting the donation as cold, hard cash, present it as a choice between stories and appeals, or an opportunity to invest in specific person or community. Qualitative and quantitative appeals don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Translate facts and hard data about your programs and your field of work into narratives that appeal to both human emotion and logic.

    Ready to Raise More Money Online?

    Image Credit: Jorge Franganillo

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