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Wednesday, January 24, 2018

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What makes for a good story?
Deborah Block and Paul Karps

February, 2011

As we’ve written about before in this newsletter, we always enjoy telling a good story in our copy—just as most of our fellow writers do.

After all, readers can relate and empathize far better with a broad issue when it’s brought down to the level of an individual experience. And, truth be told, getting the opportunity to spin a compelling tale is something nearly every writer yearns for.

Okay. So you’re planning your next appeal and decide to go with a story. But how do you go about choosing what will actually make for a persuasive one that serves your fundraising purpose?

Here, then, are a few guidelines that may help you in this process:

Make sure it’s not too complicated

Uppermost in your mind should be that the narrative is uncomplicated enough—and straightforward enough—so you aren’t forced to get into a lot of technical details in your copy. While the writer should be able to keep the descriptive copy simple, sometimes the story itself is overly complex. Too many names, too many dates, too much going on. So do yourself a favor and don’t use a story that’s destined to bog down your copy.

Be the hero

You also want to ensure your organization has played the preeminent role in the story. Sure, there may be some other groups involved—especially in the case of international relief. But you must be able to position your group as the hero. Otherwise, what’s the point of telling this particular story?

Get some juicy quotations

It’s not enough just to get the facts. You really need some nice quotations from the people involved in your story. Let them say how your group was “a godsend” or “saved our lives.” Because think about it: This sounds much better and has much more impact coming from a third party rather than from the pen (or computer) of your Executive Director.

The perfect story, in fact, is one in which you have the option of using quotations throughout your copy: to describe the problem, what happened next, how it was resolved, and how the nonprofit made all the difference.

Given that you’re using this story as a fundraising vehicle, the icing on the cake would be a quotation about how the beneficiary of the service has become a donor. You now have the chance to tie the story directly into an appeal for money. Clearly, this isn’t possible (or even relevant) in every instance and for every organization. But if you’ve got it, flaunt it.


While we run the risk of stating the oh-so-obvious, you want a story that has some oomph to it. Something that can grab your readers’ attention and, eventually, inspire and motivate them to give. If not, you may end up with a letter in which, as they say, “there’s no there there.”

Don’t forget the logistics

If telling your story depends on interviewing the subject—or related person—you want to make sure she’s available within the appropriate timeframe and deadlines dictated by your schedule. Ditto for being available to review the draft copy before it mails, if that makes sense in your situation. The last thing you want to find out is that the subject will be incommunicado at a key point in the process, potentially delaying your mail date. Knowing this ahead of time could steer you to a different story.

Have a happy ending

The very essence of storytelling in a fundraising context is the ability to present the before-and-after dichotomy—which, in effect, is analogous to the problem-solution approach inherent in a typical direct mail format. As in, “here’s what the situation looked like before the organization came to the rescue, and here’s how it was able to solve the problem.”

In other words, without the happy ending (or at least a relatively happy one), there is no story.

Copywriters Deborah Block and Paul Karps are partners in BK Kreative, 1010 Varsity Court, Mountain View CA 94040, phone (650) 962-9562 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              (650) 962-9562      end_of_the_skype_highlighting, email


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