Fundraising: A True Story



I just came across this video from Bloomerang TV. Steven Shattuck, Bloomerang TV’s host, and John Lepp from Agents of Good bring up some great points about an important aspect of fundraising.

I’ve never met John Lepp. He’s not a client. I guess he’s a colleague. But before this afternoon, I’d never heard of him. And I love everything John Lepp has to say.

Direct mail is most powerful when we make donors feel like heroes. It allows us to empower people and help them make a difference in the world. 

Like Jeff Brooks points out in his book, The Fundraiser’s Guide to Irresistible Communication, a great fundraising letter is like a short story (p. 35).

It has a conflict that needs to be resolved. There are rising actions which led the writer to send the donor a letter asking for help and support. Often there are even antagonists working against an organization’s cause. 

Most importantly, the donor should be the hero of the story.

And like all exciting stories, this one has a cliffhanger. Will our hero (the donor) save the day -- or will the problem/adversary prevail? The ending is in the hands of the donor.

And to top it off, it’s nonfiction. Everything’s completely true. The conflict, the characters, the solution – they’re all real. 

Could there be anything more compelling than writing a true story about the person you’re asking for help and giving that person the keys to decide the ending?

In the video, John talks about a fundraising campaign he launched to help a food bank raise money to buy a new distribution truck.

It was such a successful campaign because he showed donors their contributions would be impactful and tangible. 

A new food truck greatly increases a food bank’s ability to fill empty bellies. Just imagine the emotions a person-in-need might feel when she sees that food truck approaching. 

It’s not a hypothetical situation or a vague call for support. It’s clear and concise. 

It’s kind of like a lesson I learned in college. When I asked my mom to send some money without an explanation of how I’d use it, she’d simply tell me I should have been more careful with my spending.

If I asked my mom for $40 to buy new shoes or a textbook, she’d almost always send it.

She did so because she cared about me (and still does!). She didn’t want me wearing worn-out shoes or being stuck in a class without the textbook I needed.

Back then, I couldn’t Facetime my parents or text them pictures. My mother couldn’t see me walking around campus in my new shoes or sitting in class with my textbook – just like many of food bank’s donors may never see the distribution truck in person. Just knowing the specifics when being asked for help can make all the difference.

After the food bank’s successful campaign, it’d be awesome if John sent another letter with a picture of the new food truck and thanking the donors for their help. Besides being polite, just think about how fulfilling it is for donors to see the result of their contributions. 

Both the food bank’s donors and my mom were asked to help people they care about. Whether it’s the needy or a son, when people know where their money is going, they’re more likely to help. They feel satisfied knowing they made life a little better for someone. 

They feel like heroes -- because that’s truly what they are. We just need to help people realize they really do save the day when they donate to worthy causes