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Better Stories = Greater Engagement: How to Craft Compelling Appeals to Boost Fundraising

April 08, 2022 (3 min read)

Who doesn’t love a good story? As Harvard Business Review pointed out in 2014, “We humans have been communicating through stories for upwards of 20,000 years, back when our flat screens were cave walls.” These days, ways, reasons, and places that stories are told has expanded even further. Forget flat screens. People—including prospective donors for your non-profit or University—are inundated with messages on a multitude of channels and devices. How do you ensure your fundraising appeals get heard (or seen)?    

Tell stories that matter to encourage engagement

A louder megaphone isn’t the answer. You need to break through the noise with messages that enable meaningful connections. Not only can a shareable story extend the reach of non-profit fundraising campaigns, but it can help you reach the right people and spur action:

  • Capture journalists’ interest to bring visibility to your mission
  • Inspire donors to give generously and advocate on your behalf
  • Find corporate sponsors based on common values
  • Keep board members, staff, and volunteers motivated

Neither are statistics, at least not on their own. That’s where storytelling offers real value. “Donors give to help solve a problem. Whether that problem is to feed the hungry, make education accessible, save the environment, get more pets rescued or eliminate systemic racism, the job of a story is to stir feelings within your supporters’ hearts and minds,” writes the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

While impressive percentages provide evidence, they don’t necessarily get the blood pumping or leave a lasting impression. In fact, research at Stanford University found that after listening to a one minute speech featuring three statistics and one story, only 5% of listeners could remember a single statistic, but 63% could recall the story.

Use non-profit donor research to understand which stories to tell

Before you craft the stories to support your fundraising goals, you need to understand your audience. Whether you want to create one-on-one engagement with a high-value contributor, reach a new demographic to expand your donor base, or connect with companies based on their Corporate Responsibility initiatives, conducting research is crucial.

Given its wide availability, it can be tempting to turn to the open web for non-profit donor research. But Google’s convenience makes more sense when you’re looking for the best local coffee shop than insights into donors. Open web searches tend to serve up sources that have the strongest SEO game, rather than the most relevant content.

Even if you by-pass the sponsored results, your research can turn into a time-consuming, costly treasure hunt that yields outdated material, dubious sources, and more questions than answers. Plus, those frustrating moments when you think you’ve uncovered a real gem, only to get stopped in your research tracks by a paywall.

Choosing a cloud-based research platform empowers non-profit donor research that delivers real value. Nexis for Development Professionals, for example, aggregates a market-leading collection of sources that are ideal for discovering actionable insights. Search from one place to find:

  • Access current regional, national, and international news to identify generational trends that could be an “in” with a new cohort of donors, such as gaming for good.
  • Search news archives and company information for mentions of corporate ESG commitments which may align with your organization’s mission. Nexis makes it easy with an ESG factors Power Search that scans news articles for mentions of 175 different terms related to environmental, social or governance.
  • Explore a variety of wealth indicators to understand the giving potential of individuals.
  • Uncover connections between people, locations, and businesses in public records*.

Once you have a solid understanding of your intended audience, whether it’s one person or one thousand, you’re in a better position to tell a story that ignites a passionate—and giving—response.

Want more storytelling best practices? Request a free trial of Nexis for Development Professionals to see how non-profit donor research can give your fundraising a boost.


* Access to U.S. Public Records content is subject to credentialing. Due to the nature of the origin of public record information, the public records and commercially available data sources used in reports may contain errors.


Due to the nature and origin of public record information, the public records and commercially available data sources used in reports may contain errors. The LexisNexis Public Records services are not provided by “consumer reporting agencies,” as that term is defined in the Fair Credit Reporting Act (15 U.S.C. §, et seq.) (“FCRA”) and do not constitute “consumer reports,” as that term is defined in the FCRA. Accordingly, these LexisNexis services may not be used in whole or in part as a factor in determining eligibility for credit, insurance, employment, or another eligibility purpose in connection with which a consumer report may be used under the FCRA.