How to Turn Case Studies into Fundraising Stories

October 4, 2016 
: Huntsinger & Jeffer


By now, just about everyone understands that well-told stories engage readers, help them make emotional connections to our organizations and improve fundraising outcomes.

The question is no longer whether to tell stories in fundraising appeals, but which stories to tell and how to tell them.

Not all fundraising stories are created equal. There are as many ways to tell a story as there are storytellers. Of course, it’s important to choose the right story – one that is relevant to the donors’ emotional needs and expectations, one that is consistent with your mission, one that compliments your brand, and so forth.

But how you tell your story is just as important. Case Studies that describe how your organization solved a problem are one of the most common types of fundraising stories. The challenge with them is that it’s too easy to assume the facts will speak for themselves. No matter how compelling an event might be, it still needs to be related in a way that will a) have a powerful impact on readers and b) fill them with an overwhelming urge to donate.

Here’s an example of how a story like that might start:

“It was 2:00 in the morning when Tonya stood out in the cold pounding on our door. She and her daughter had fled their apartment where her boyfriend was in a murderous rage. We took her in, and gave her shelter for the night. The next day we moved her to one of our safe houses where she and her daughter could be out of danger.

Then we made sure she’d never have to go back to her old life of helplessness, dependency, and fear. Tonya enrolled in our job-training program, and worked with one of our counselors to learn self-esteem and independence … etc.”

If you tell that story the right way, readers will infer that, because you solved this problem so effectively, you’ll have the same success solving similar ones in the future.

Here are three things you can do to make your case study more powerful and, consequently, more successful:

  1. Be interesting. Case Studies are, by nature, detailed and process-oriented. That means, if you’re not careful, they can easily be reduced to a dry recitation of facts. Use active language, and remember that the ultimate goal of the story is to persuade someone to give you money. Be sincere and personal. Make sure the story is more about the client you helped and less about you.
  2. Be a humble narrator. You want to talk about all the wonderful things you do, but do it without letting the letter to become too organization-centric. Even as you talk about yourself, keep your focus on the reader. For example, each time you talk about some great thing your organization does, preface it a qualifier like, “Thanks to the caring support of friends like you …”
  3. Use details effectively. Describe how you solved the problem using concrete language to paint the picture you want to instill in your reader’s mind. But do not let readers get so bogged down in detail that they lose the human element of your story. Don’t let the client in your story become a cardboard, stereotyped “needy person.” Give her some personality, e.g., “Tonya’s transformation took us all by surprise. As her fear subsided, her young face brightened, and her easy smile and dry humor began to show through.”

Case studies can use powerful stories to grab readers’ hearts, then focus their minds on your problem-solving abilities. They show you have the personnel, expertise, talent, infrastructure, and commitment to accomplish your mission.

It takes a little extra effort, and often some extra research, to make case studies compelling enough to persuade a reader to reach for her wallet. But remember, it were easy, anybody could do it.



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