How To Win Your Year-end Appeal: A Storytelling Checklist

Ensure your year-end appeal meets its goals through effective storytelling.

‘Tis the season for the nonprofit sector to gather their critical year-end donations which enable them to drive the greatest social impact. Many nonprofits have already started their year-end appeal campaigns, capitalizing on the (US) Thanksgiving holiday, #GivingTuesday (worldwide), and the December countdown to a new year.

Whether you’ve launched your campaign or haven’t started yet (it’s not too late! Scroll to the bottom), here’s a checklist to ensure your year-end appeal most effectively utilizes storytelling.

Is there unnecessary jargon and mission statement lingo? 

Your story probably went through multiple rounds of approval by more people than was useful. Trust me, it happens to all of us. If you’ve had too many cooks in the kitchen, here’s how to cut through the jargon and loosen up on the mission statement.

Does your story have a hook, a hold and a payoff? 

After you’ve eliminated the jargon, follow the John Haydon’s advice and make sure your story has a hook (trigger an emotion), a hold (suspense) and a payoff (reason to act). Once you have their attention, give them a sense of urgency and a clear way for them to donate.

Planning to use a video? 

Watch it again and see if there are opportunities to strengthen it with annotations or graphic overlays. Take note of Vox’s impressive use of graphics and data to illuminate and punctuate their interview with President Obama.

Are your photographs interesting enough? Are you sure? 

It can be difficult to tell a story using photography. Show the feelings you want to inspire, but be careful not to be too aspirational or too unpleasant. Also, appending a simple text overlay or macro to an image can add just the right amount of detail and nuance to transform a photograph into a story.

Use your annual report to drive your appeal 

The annual report game is changing—fast. If your annual report is the centerpiece of your appeal, you’ll need to work harder to stand out from the crowd. Big Duck’s Rachel Hope Alison wants you to ask: what does my donor expect, what do they want, and what needs do they not even realize they have?

Who should deliver the stories? 

You’ve probably segmented your donors by any number of categories, such as prospective or renewing, or programmatic interests. Now take your story-driven communication materials and ask yourself who should be the messenger to each of these segments? Let’s say you’ve decided your CEO is delivering the story to your major donors. Try distilling the story down to One Really Big Idea that will stir your donors’ deep sense of belonging to your cause. Another option is to have the message delivered by a beneficiary of your work.