Once Upon A Time: Telling Your Nonprofit’s Story Through Fundraising

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away there lived frantic Fran, a development director with a big gala looming on the horizon.

More diligent than Santa, she made her list and checked it thrice.

Volunteers- check.

Silent auction items – check.

Jamming DJ – check.

Messaging theme for the night…messaging…theme?!

*Insert Macaulay Culkin, circa Home Alone, shocked face here. *

Obviously, the primary focus of a fundraising event is to raise money. Lots and lots of it. However, while you’re planning all the details for a successful fundraiser, you should also give thought to the story you want to convey beforehand. Don’t be like Fran.

In an ideal world, this theme starts with the invitation and carries through the entire event. This messaging should be the thread that weaves everything together.

When I was a fulltime journalist, my editors made sure that I understood my job was to include the 5 W’s – who, what, when where and why – in every story. Every single one.

A nonprofit storyteller’s job is to include NIA – need, impact, ask – into every fundraising event. Every single one. Every single time.

Let’s say you are a nonprofit that provides critical home repairs to seniors and individuals with disabilities, and you are gearing up for your in-person gala. If I was charged with crafting the story for the night, I would have enlarged photos around the space that show some of the before and after work that has been performed. I’d probably also include a little write-up on each one about the impact the project had on the recipient.

 On the back of each program, I would include a story from a client. I would make sure the story included the problem, the impact of the problem on the client’s daily life, how we connected with the client and what we did to help. Each place setting would include a card empowering guests to give with a specific ask. Even if there wasn’t a formal program outside of a welcome and final thanks for coming, I would have a video highlighting program impact and an ask for support to address ongoing needs.

Does it feel like overkill? It’s not.

Research shows that it can take 7 repetitions of data before it gets committed to long term memory.





Every event. Every time.

What is NIA?

Need- Essentially, this is the time to build your case for support. Clearly communicate the needs that your organization is working to meet. Share details of the problem that launched your nonprofit into action. If you are looking to grow a program, be sure to include the challenges that persist even after you have filled the initial need.

Impact- Since you’ve positioned yourself as a solution, you need to spend some time sharing how you’re making a difference. This impact should include program data AND descriptive narratives.  

Ask- Do you know what you call a fundraiser without a literal ask for support? A party. If you’re not going to ask attendees for support, why are we here? Keep it simple. Make it plain. Don’t assume everyone will give just because they’re in attendance. You have not because you ask not.

Always Write Creatives