Telling Your Fundraising Story

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Fundraising storytelling

Every fundraiser has a story. Tell yours in a timeless narrative structure that will make donors a part of your happy ending.

School fundraising stories are poised for success when they include these key elements

School fundraising is a fall staple. With the vast majority of schools participating in some kind of fundraising effort, telling your fundraising story in a compelling way is necessary to stand out from the crowd. Get ahead of the game with these tips for telling your community a meaningful story about your school’s needs and how to meet them.

While most of us are aware of the “theme” or purpose behind a school fundraising program, communicating this through the familiar storytelling framework is often an overlooked and effective way to engage donors or customers. Let’s unpack these three essential elements of a story and consider effective ways to apply them to your school fundraiser:

  • Character
  • Plot
  • Resolution

Telling this story is achieved through letters, sales pitches, fliers and, most importantly, conversations. You can use this story-telling model to create a short 2-minute description of your fundraiser that tees up the conversation for the all-important ask.

School Fundraising Story Characters

A story is usually known for its characters. Indeed, realistic personalities are what allow people to see themselves in the story and connect on a deeper level. The best question to ask when defining the characters in your story include:

  • Who benefits from this fundraiser?
  • Who is selling or making asks in the fundraiser?
  • Who is buying products or making donations in this fundraiser?

In fundraisers, students and parents are selling products or asking for donations, while friends and neighbors are buying and giving. Ensure that communications about the fundraiser include both of these sets of characters. Doing so will ensure that people can identify who their personal role, as well as actions are affecting. Here’s an example of how to make the characters in your fundraiser evident:

This year’s fundraiser at Oakleaf Elementary is helping the K-5 students who live in our neighborhood. Friends and neighbors like you have the chance to purchase a great product and make a difference in these students’ lives and ensure their academic success.

In two short sentences, you can instantly position students and customers as integral players in the fundraising story. Notice the use of the phrase “like you.” Help donors see how they fit in to the narrative with signals like this to create an instant connection to your cause.

When people hear stories, they instinctively look for characters that they can relate to. Give the donors in your fundraising story the power and opportunity to make a difference by connecting to characters, and show them how they can help resolve the issues that arise to create your plot.

School Fundraising Story Plot

In a story, a plot arises usually as a result of the interaction between characters. Generally, a plot is something that introduces a problem that needs resolution.

A story may have many plotlines as characters seek resolution from others and within themselves. In a fundraiser, the plot is clear: a school has a need, but they don’t have the funds to meet that need. The resolution in achieved by friends and neighbors purchasing products. Plot is about action—even action as simple as purchasing quality products from a fundraising brochure.

As we’ve mentioned in our earlier posts about crafting a compelling mission statement, the more detail you can give, the better. Here’s a sample plot statement, continuing from the earlier example:

Oakleaf has experienced some funding shortages in the past couple of years, and teachers in the science classes haven’t been able to afford new books in quite some time. We’re hosting this fundraiser to ensure…

Context helps customers understand why this problem arose to begin with, and it sets up the core issue or problem being faced by some of the characters (in this case, the students not having textbooks due to funding shortages).

School Fundraising Story Resolution

Resolution is closely related to plot in your school fundraising story, but it has the distinct purpose of creating a sense of urgency and power for the customer. One powerful way to present resolution is to paint a picture of how the plot concludes in both scenarios—one where the donor makes a purchase and one where they don’t. Here’s one way to accomplish that:

Without the funds, we won’t have enough usable textbooks for all students. In fact, we’ll be short about 30 books. With funding, however, all students will have the chance to learn and excel in science.

This creates a subtle ultimatum, where the customer can choose to participate and be this story’s hero, or where they decline to participate and fail to achieve actual resolution. This places the power of resolution in the customer’s hands, is yet another effective strategy for retaining your base of supporters over time.

Of course, your story must conclude with the all important question to the audience: Can I count on you to help us meet our school’s need this year? Armed with quality product options and a compelling story, you can be positioned for serious fundraising success this year.

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