Craft Effective Special Appeal Stories

Craft Effective Special Appeal Stories

Special Appeals (aka paddle raise, the 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.


Stories Matter! 

Donors are deeply moved by well-crafted stories demonstrating your organization’s impact in the lives of your service recipients. They give most generously when they’re hit in “the feels.” Our data suggests nearly 75% of all money raised during the live fundraising program originates from the appeal alone (and is consistently climbing). So what type of narrative is most likely to get your donors to experience said “feels”?  

Move Donors Emotionally

First things first: choose an amazing story and one eloquent speaker who will make donors feel something. Anything. Move them with a powerful personal account. Make them laugh, cry, feel grateful. Include them in your mission so they too can affirm your beliefs and support 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

Every word spoken at your live event should be supporting your theme of your live program, culminating in the Special Appeal story. Let us do this for you! Our DO BETTER! solution offers script writing to elevate the event and showcase your mission effectively. What your speakers say MATTERS – A LOT! The words you use can encourage – and discourage – giving. Never, ever leave this critical element to chance. Script all speakers (+videos) and insist they remain on topic. Listen to some of the greatest orators of our time and emulate some of what you hear (in your own words, of course!) “I believe, I think we can all agree…” ‘We are all here today because…” These are phrases help create an atmosphere of like-minded individuals who are all 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

Do not allow speakers to drone on and on. Capitalize on momentum by keeping appeal testimonials and ALL speeches powerful, succinct, personal, and on-point. Two to three minutes is ideal for an appeal story, with very few exceptions. Data suggests that giving declines significantly after the three minute mark. Attendees get bored, disengage emotionally and start to tune out. Then, you’ve lost them! Don’t allow this to happen.

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. 

Pro Tip: 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!). 

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. Additionally, it’s yours forever! You can recycle it on social media channels, it can live on your website – that way, more and more people see the important work you do and the impact it has on vulnerable people, animals and/or places. We highly recommend using video, 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 your 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 hardly ever interesting. Seeing your great work in action IS!
  4. Don’t rely on the folks you’re seeing to tell the story you want donors to hear. Script your video and narrate the story in lieu of relying solely on what folks in the video actually say. Trust us.

Let Us Help Tell Your Story!

Storytelling is one of our strengths. Reach out so we can create that magical moment you’ve been dreaming of. From our DO BETTER! Comprehensive solution offering script writing, program details and staff cues; to our DO BEST! Dynamic Fundraising solution, which includes video production and visuals, we’ve got you covered. We are confident we’ll surpass your fundraising goals. 

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