John Thompson, Chief Creative Officer  ●  12/6/2017

Who Is the Hero of Great Fundraising Appeals?

Donors are the center of fundraising appeals 

We’ve all been guilty, myself included, of losing track of a core truth when creating fundraising appeals.

With the clamor of analytics, behavioral and attitudinal data, revenue and retention goals, and strategic positioning briefs ringing in our ears, it is easy to forget that the true heroes of every appeal, regardless of channel or media, are the individuals to whom we appeal, not the organizations about which we write.

It is the donors who star in the fundraising passion play. And stars need to enjoy the primary spotlight.

Forget “story” or program accomplishments or heartbroken-now-saved constituents. Forget the nobility of mission and power of the nonprofit brand. Those elements all play important supporting roles.

But they mean nothing if the fundraising appeal does not heroically resonate with the donor, because without resonation, the appeal will fall back into a competitive landscape that  teems with similar voices pleading for similar worthy causes.

Here’s the rub: “Resonate” may not mean “bring a donor to tears” (although it may). It may not mean “instill a sense of outrage” (although it may). It may not mean “inspire a sense of hope” (although it may).

It may simply mean, “Here’s an action you can take that will gratify you, because you are a hero and deserve to be gratified.”

We human beings are essentially self-centered, self-determining creatures, and this is not meant in any pejorative sense. It is natural that we respond to contexts in which we control outcomes that gratify us in some way.

Hopefully, most humans are also essentially kind and compassionate, so fixing a problem — feeding a child, curing a disease, saving the planet — may very well qualify as an act of self-gratification, even while it is also a selfless act of charity.

In fact, science has proven that the act of charity is fueled by the production of oxytocin, the body’s “feel-good” hormone. (“Why Your Brain Loves Good Storytelling”; Harvard Business Review, Paul J. Zak)

And yes, sometimes nonprofits need to sweeten the gratification deal (a back-end backpack, an enclosed sheet of stickers, a race day t-shirt, etc.). But that does not diminish the core truth that it’s all about a very real donor, reacting to you in a very human way.

So, craft donor appeals that appeal to donors. Position them as the heroes in your stories. Articulate the impact they will have solving the problem at hand. It’s them, not you. That’s the only true strategy for success. All the other tools, strategies, and tactics we employ simply get us to that point.


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