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Fundraising Story Goes from Good to GREAT [Case Study]


You know telling stories is the better way to motivate donors to give.

You’ve probably also seen how that is much easier said than done.

One of the main challenges is this:  The story most likely to move donors is about a not-yet-solved problem – someone facing a need or challenge and waiting for someone to help them overcome it.

But: almost all the time, the story you have is about someone who has already solved their problem. By the time you get in touch and learn their story, they’ve moved on. Things are good. You have a success story, not a need story.

That success story is important. It’s exactly what you want in your donor newsletter or donor care letter. 

It’s not the right story for asking donors to give. A success story inadvertently says, “Everything is a-okay! Your donation is not needed here!”

But what are you to do? You have a story. A success story. Would it be better to forget the story and go back to flinging statistics at your donors?

Nope. There’s a way to make your success story work in your fundraising. And I’m going to show you how one smart fundraising professional did it.

I was working with Thomas Slagle, Donor Communications Specialist at Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Midlands (Omaha) on a direct mail appeal.

Thomas faced the problem we’ve been talking about: He had a great story about a young man whose life had been transformed with the help of their program. It was exactly the kind of story everyone in the organization loves: It shows that the program works.

But Thomas was writing a fundraising appeal. He needed to show donors a problem that they could help to solve. The perfect story he had to tell was not quite right. It might make donors feel good, but it was not going to move as many to action as he needed.

Here’s the great thing. Thomas not only “fixed” the story, but he saved both versions. And he’s willing to share both drafts with us. 

In both versions, the story is interrupted a few times by asks –- a smart thing to do, but I’ve omitted the asks so you can focus on the story.

First Draft: Success Story

I want to tell you about David. You are the reason he is where he is today. You are the reason he is staying strong through the pandemic.

David is an amazing kid. He loves his mom and his siblings. Sometimes he takes care of them while his mom is at work. David does his chores and is respectful. For David, family comes before him.

But that means David falls behind sometimes.

He struggles with his grades. He has a hard time staying confident. And without a male role model, maturing as a young adult has been tough.

Thankfully, your generosity helped David meet his mentor, Mariano, and David’s life has been changed ever since.


3 years ago David met his mentor Mariano. The pandemic had not started yet, but David and Mariano’s mentoring relationship had. They were excited to meet and together found a love for biking. They even rode together in the Owl Ride along the riverfront and through midtown Omaha.

“David still talks about that ride 3 years later,” says David’s mother.

Their relationship is not all fun and games, though. Mariano and David made school and confidence-building a top priority. Then, COVID-19 interrupted life as we know it.

But, David was lucky he had a strong circle of support.

Caring community members like you were there. You ensured kids had mentors by their side even when we were all disconnected.


Mariano was there for David. He joined in conferences at school and helped David build relationships with his teachers. Since then, he started receiving As in school. He raised his GPA above a 3.0 and made the honor roll!

David’s growing circle of support was growing his self-confidence too.

He made the South High School wrestling team and won some inter-school tournaments. He grew closer to his coaches and teammates and gained even more important people in his circle of support.

David told BBBS staff, “…Mariano helped point me in the right direction, and he was there with me by my side to make sure I followed through.”


Not every kid is as lucky as David. Many kids still struggle with their grades after missing out on in-person classes. Some lost touch with long-time friends. Others simply find it challenging to believe in themselves again after the setbacks of the pandemic.

Kids need you in their circle of support. Your generosity will ensure they have the tools to succeed in school and in life.

The future looks bright for David. For the first time, he’s excited about continuing his education after high school. He plans to attend Metropolitan Community College, where he hopes to become a mechanic. But not just any mechanic. He wants to work on a racing team one day!

I think you’ll agree, that’s a good story, well-told.


It doesn’t need a donor. Yes, it includes a number of direct asks. That would help. But the story itself is not geared toward donors helping solve a problem.

Here’s Thomas’ next draft of the same story:

Second Draft: Story about a “Problem” to Solve 

I want to tell you about David. He is an amazing kid. 

David loves his mom and his siblings. Sometimes he takes care of them while his mom is at work. David’s father isn’t around, so David steps in. He acts as the “Dad” of the house.

But that means David falls behind.

He struggles with his grades. He has a hard time staying confident. And without a male role model, maturing as a young adult has been tough.


While David is taking care of his siblings, his grades suffer. He isn’t motivated in class, so he doesn’t always turn in his homework. His grades are mostly C’s, D’s and F’s.

David isn’t confident in school. He doesn’t have plans to go to college. He rarely talks about it. He says he might go, but he just doesn’t have the motivation.

David doesn’t have a strong relationship with teachers either. He’s the oldest of his siblings, so they can’t help. His mom works a lot to provide for the family, so she can’t help. 

David is alone.


David needs a mentor in his life. He needs someone to motivate him in school and help him build relationships with his teachers. Then, maybe one day David will receive A’s and B’s or even make the honor roll!

A growing circle of support will help David grow his self-confidence.

David wants to try new things. His mom is usually too busy, though, or he has to watch his siblings. David loves sports, especially soccer. He wants to try out for his local team, but he’s not confident enough.

David is missing out, again. Coaches could be another important part of a kid’s circle of support. They can help David grow his confidence and mature as a young adult — if he can get the confidence to join a team.


David’s future has potential.

He just needs the motivation to get it done. He needs a group hug from those close to him — mentors, teachers, coaches, parents/guardians, siblings, BBBS staff, our local community and YOU!

The most important thing Thomas did in this second draft was he left the ending off the story.

He told the “problem” part of David’s life. Then he created a vision of what David needed.

And then he walked away from David’s story.

He didn’t say “David is waiting for your help” – that would be untrue. He simply left the ending off David’s story and asked donors to help kids like David. This is how you overcome the fact that you almost always have the “wrong” kind of story for asking.

Version one (minus the ask interruptions) would be a great newsletter article, where the purpose is not to show a problem that needs to be solved, but an inspiring situation where a problem was solved, thanks in part to the donor. In fact, Thomas can use the first version of the story in his newsletter – with pretty minor revisions for the newsletter context.

Two more things I want to note about the differences:

  1. The two versions are very similar at the beginning, but the final version has a few more details about the problem.
  2. The final is about 150 words shorter. This is good because it leaves more room for Thomas to talk to the donor about shared values and other reasons to give.

Do what Thomas did: When you want donors to give, tell “incomplete” stories and invite them to become part of the story by donating.

Thomas and his Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Midlands get regular hands-on coaching from Moceanic. That’s one of the reasons he knows how to tackle this storytelling challenge! You can do it too. Find out if Moceanic Coaching+ is for you by scheduling a free 25-minute call with one of our Fundraisingologists. They will give you great free advice, and help you identify which Coaching+ program might be right for you. Click here to book your call.

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  • Jeff Brooks

    Jeff Brooks is a Fundraisingologist at Moceanic. He has more than 30 years of experience in fundraising, and has worked as a writer and creative director on behalf of top nonprofits around the world, including CARE, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Feeding America, and many others.

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2 Comments. Leave new

  • Chelsea Ellis
    July 14, 2022 11:03 pm

    I’m curious if there was A/B testing on these two approaches.

    • This particular appeal wasn’t tested, as the sample size was too small to yield statistically valid results. But I and many other fundraisers have tested this approach MANY times, and this approach wins again and again and again!


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