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Turn Your Raw Data Into Compelling Stories


By Terri Harel

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Reading Time: 3 minutes

Cold, hard facts and raw data 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 have become more discerning in choosing where to give. Specific facts about your cause and impact can lend credibility to your organization. However, using statistics to demonstrate the scope of a problem may result in apathy and inaction called 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 theorize 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 includes the evidence behind your ask, but frames it in a personal, real way to the donor.

If your cause can be summed up in a shocking statistic, you might have the beginning of an appeal. Use the fact as a title or headline and then take a magnifying glass to it. Since readers lose interest quickly, an attention-grabbing fact or statistic provides a quick point of entry into the story.

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

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.”

Once you show donors the scope of the problem, you satisfy their need for evidence and create an emotional response. 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. Why not do the same for individual donors?

A suggested gift size is another opportunity to use raw data from your programs to engage donors, and to direct funds in your most needy programs. Most organizations already know the raw data and costs of carrying out their programs.For example, $10 a month sends a child to school, $500 trains a teacher for a year, and $1,000 builds a school.

Take the raw data you have, and incorporate it 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 raw data
Sister India’s clever “comparative”

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. They explain how convincing 10 friends to give up a $30 manicure transforms the lives of 10 entire families.

There are many interesting ways to utilize raw 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 raw data about your programs and your field of work into narratives that appeal to both human emotion and logic.

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