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  • AMi Direct

AMiable Solution #322: Using Stories, Not Statistics, In Fundraising Letters

Last year, the Washington, D.C., area hosted dozens of charity walks. The American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life. Great Strides for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Out of the Darkness Community Walk (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention). Walk for Wishes (Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic).

And for months prior—sometimes even a full year prior—the organizations behind them marketed their events and appealed to donors and prospective donors through direct mail.

Clearly, their efforts work.

So what does it take to craft an effective fundraising letter? What should you include?

Let’s start with what NOT to include: statistics and legal speak. Although it may seem reasonable to include numbers and tax incentives as motivators for involvement and proof of success, most donors don’t respond well to logic.

In fact, Marc Pitman, founder of, says that while the temptation to throw in just a little logic may be hard to resist, it’s imperative that fundraisers overcome that urge. In his May 7, 2013, article, “Throw statistics out of your fundraising letters!,” Pitman says, “Telling an emotional story and throwing in even one calculation or statistic can have devastating results on your fundraising.” Donors need to feel the impact of their donation, not see it.

To do that—whether you’re fundraising for a charity walk, a specific project, or an annual fund—you need to tell stories, true stories of the people who benefit from your efforts.

Mary Cahalane, a 30-year fundraising veteran and the force behind Hands-On Fundraising, offers these tips when writing your fundraising story:

· Keep your story simple. Limit it to one or two main characters. Make your character come alive with clear, specific details and descriptions.

· Describe your character’s challenge or problem, but don’t resolve it. As Cahalane says, “Leave it (the problem) hanging there. Like one more step and the character’s over the cliff hanging there. Somebody needs to do something NOW hanging there.”

· Show your readers how they can help solve your character’s problem. Make them feel connected to your character so they’ll be draw in with empathy and then act on it.

Marketers tend to live and die by numbers. Fundraising efforts filled with them, however, just die. Give your campaign and your cause the fighting chance it deserves: with feeling.

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