Rule #5: Develop and Tell Good Stories

Which one of these two speech openings make you want to hear more?

  1. “Let me give some statistics ….”
  2. “Let me tell you a story ….”

For the majority, the second one wins. Good fundraising stories nearly always beat content full of statistics and figures.

Stories are usually more interesting and engaging if they are told well, and sometimes better if they include a few well-placed statistics.

Facts and data certainly matter but without a good story, fundraising communication can easily become a meaningless transfer of successive points of view to a reader who won’t really engage with it or be persuaded to respond.

Stories, real and imagined, can be very powerful communication tools as they can stimulate emotion and therefore trigger a desire to help. Great stories cut through the bland text that crowds too many pages and screens. Great stories turn the complex into something simple.

The best stories represent the personal embodiment of the problem and the revelation of the opportunity to create change and build a brighter future with a donor’s support.

The memorable stories are a truth well told, they contain powerful contrasts (problem vs solution, past vs future) and even though they may involve tragedy, they also show a way forward that is positive and realistic. Good fundraising stories present a clear proposition that donors can grasp.

By their very nature, good stories usually evoke strong emotion, but importantly, they do not cross the line between emotional stimulation and emotional manipulation (see Rule 15). There are no great results to be found in pushing big guilt propositions at donors.


There are many ways to tell fundraising stories – written, spoken, pictorially and using various audio-visual methods across different media channels. Advances in audio-visual technology offer tremendous opportunity for ongoing innovation and improvement in fundraising communication.

Often a story about one person or one specific situation produces far more powerful engagement with donors than stories involving masses of people or big statistics. Long stories can inadvertently overwhelm or bore a prospective donor, leaving them wondering if they can make any difference at all.

Is your organisation making an effort to capture and share stories? Is your communication content overwhelmed by bland statistics and program features?  What steps do you take to test your stories with some donors to improve your confidence that they are producing the desired effect? Testing stories with some donors first is the best way to assess their effectiveness.

Stories can be topped by special frontline experiences that you may be able to provide for donors, but even then, there are still stories involved.