Crafting Effective Special Appeal Stories

Misty Marquam

Stories Matter!

Why All the Hoopla About Stories?

Special Appeals (aka paddle raise, ask, fund-a-need, mission moment, etc.) consistently gross the most money of any other revenue stream at live fundraising events in our market. In fact, many savvy fundraisers now craft events around an appeal-only format, foregoing live and silent auctions altogether.

Donors are deeply moved by well-crafted stories demonstrating your organization’s impact in the lives of your service recipients, and give most generously when they experience ‘the feels.’ Our numbers suggest nearly 70% of all money raised during the live fundraising program originates from the appeal alone (and is consistently climbing). Shouldn’t you, too, become familiar with delivering the type of narrative that will reward your efforts most effectively?  

Move Donors Emotionally

First things first: choose an amazing story and one eloquent speaker who will make donors feel something. Anything. But move them with a powerful personal account. Make them laugh, cry, feel grateful…or simply include them in your mission so they too can agree with you and believe in what you do. Donors often report giving far more than they had initially budgeted, after hearing a moving anecdote about the amazing work you do and how it is truly affecting the community that they believe in.

Use Inclusive Language + Scripting

Craft every word spoken at your live event to support the Special Appeal story and the theme of your live program (or better yet, let us do it for you. Our DO BETTER! program offers script writing to elevate the event and showcase your mission effectively. Find out how we can help!). Weave each segment of the live program into one cohesive bundle and obsess over each and every word donors hear. Language is a key motivator to giving when used appropriately. Never leave this critical element to chance. Script all speakers (+videos) and insist they remain on topic. Take cues from some of the greatest orators of our time and learn to speak as they do. Phrases like “I believe, I think we can all agree…, We are all here today because…” build inclusion and an atmosphere of being like-minded individuals in this together. When attendees are seen nodding in agreement or openly emoting on your behalf, you’ve got them right where you need them to be – on your side and ready to give!

Timing Matters. A Lot!

Do not allow speakers to drone on and on. Capitalize on momentum by keeping appeal testimonials (all speeches, in fact) succinct, personal and powerfully to the point. Two to three minutes is ideal for an appeal story – never longer, as giving declines significantly after the three minute mark due to attendees tuning out and growing bored.

Placement of the appeal within your program, as well as program sequencing, are also key components to fundraising success. Capitalize on the event’s momentum arc and build the rest of your program around that. Not sure what this looks like? Reach out. This is our specialty.

Use a Storytelling Arc

No doubt you’ve heard of story arcs. But what exactly does this mean in relation to fundraising? Overly simplified, it’s a hybrid of a hero’s journey meets traditional transformation story and goes something like this. Jane was struggling with (insert main challenge here). Briefly outline the state of her life, her trials and her heartbreak before meeting your organization. Enter your organization into her life. Detail the various ways in which her life was positively impacted by what you do. Demonstrate that it was, in fact, your org that was the agent of change in her life and helped her realize true transformation. Paint a clear picture of just how amazing her life is now to help the audience feel the impact and relevance of your work. Give them hope that she’ll continue evolving. This brings us to her closing sentence – the ever-important ask.

Include an Ardent Ask

Giving is most generous when the final thing donors hear is a direct call to action from the storyteller. Something as simple as “Please give a generous gift” is very effective at stirring donors to action and acts as a mic drop moment. They’ve been implored to act, and if delivered masterfully, they’ll feel compelled to do so.

Coach your speaker to refrain from preemptively thanking the crowd before exiting the stage. This psychologically limits giving as donors feel let off the hook as if they’ve already done something to be thanked for (which they haven’t – YET!).

A Word on Video Production

All of the aforementioned principles hold true for stories told in an effective appeal video production. Here are the most important factors to know about appeal videos in terms of fundraising success:

  1. If you have the budget, invest in video. It is always worth it. Don’t believe you have the budget? Consider this: a fabulous video often pays for itself in additional revenue raised as well as the opportunity to upcycle it to other media outlets, website and other events – allowing more folks to see the important work you do and its impact in action. We highly recommend using video as it is the only way to ensure that your story is delivered precisely how you want it, in the time you’ve allotted for it.
  2. Use a pro to shoot and edit the appeal video. As the biggest revenue stream of the event, the appeal video should reflect quality and showcase seamless edits to masterfully tell your story.
  3. Avoid talking heads. If you’re investing in video, make it fantastic. Allow folks to SEE your impact while HEARING the story simultaneously. Watching someone speak is never interesting. Seeing your great work in action, however, is always compelling.

In Closing

Need help crafting your magnum opus? Reach out. Allow us to orchestrate that magical moment you’ve been dreaming of. From our DO BETTER! Comprehensive program offering script writing, program details and staff cues to our DO BEST! Dynamic Fundraising program boasting professional video production and amazing visuals, we’ve got you covered. We’re confident that we’ll surpass your fundraising goals.

Let’s change the world – together. We can’t wait to work with you!

Misty Marquam on StageBid Cards in The Air