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Fundraising secrets, tips & hints

Improve Fundraising Letters
by Translating Statistics Into Stories

by Alan Sharpe


The secret to writing compelling fundraising letters is to tell great stories. Relevant, moving, inspiring stories, well told. But how do you find these great stories in the first place?

The keyword here is relevance. Your stories must be relevant to your mission and case for support. A great story that’s off topic will entertain your donors but not your chief financial officer. So make sure you tell stories that illustrate the difference you make in the world.

The first place I look for a great story is the statistics pile. Every organization has one. Hospitals track patient visits. Animal welfare charities track endangered species. Social services organizations track meals served. Behind these cold statistics I look for a warm human-interest story.

Let me give you an example.

The Daily Bread Food Bank in Toronto, Canada, keeps track of many statistics, including the number of people who visit its member agencies, the cost to feed a typical family, and the number of children who go hungry in the Greater Toronto Area each month.

When I was retained to write a donor acquisition letter for this organization, I discovered that the percentage of income that people using food banks spend on rent is 73%. I discovered that the number of people the Daily Bread Food Bank serves monthly is 83,000. And I discovered that the Daily Bread Food Bank can buy twice as much food for one dollar as you can buy at your local grocer with that same dollar.

That last fact caught my attention. I was sure there was a compelling story behind it. So I did more homework, and crafted a letter that opened like this:

A mother of twins visited the Daily Bread Food Bank the other day and did the seemingly impossible. She left with $40 worth of groceries, but those groceries only cost $20. Which means she fed her two girls for the price of feeding one. How did she do it?

Well, she didn’t buy her groceries. One of her neighbours did. Someone she doesn’t even know. Someone like you.

The mother I’m telling you about has to visit the Daily Bread Food Bank every month to feed herself and her family. Like many others who live in the Greater Toronto Area, she runs out of money before she runs out of month. Hunger like hers, unfortunately, is commonplace in the Greater Toronto Area.

As you can see, behind even the most straightforward statistics (”we can buy twice as much food with a dollar as a food bank visitor can buy with the same dollar”) you can find a story. Your goal with your fundraising letters is to translate those statistics into stories, stories that move the hearts of your donors. So look for the statistics first, and the human drama behind them second. That way you’re sure to remain relevant to your donors. And your chief financial officer.

© 2006 Alan Sharpe. Reprinted with permission.

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About the Author: Alan Sharpe, fundraising letter writer, instructor and author, is president of Raiser Sharpe, the full-service direct mail fundraising agency that helps non-profit organizations raise funds, build relationships and retain loyal donors using cost-effective, compelling, creative fundraising letters. Sign up for free weekly tips like this at RaiserSharpe.com.
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