Before and after… it’s the line between so much in a story – in all our stories. Think about your own. There are the “before I knew better” stories. The “before I met my partner” stories. The “after the kids were born” stories.
The line between before and after signifies an important point in time – a time that changed us somehow.
When I say point, I don’t mean that literally. That time between could be years in one story, and a second in another. But it’s important. It has meaning.
It’s important for fundraising, as well.
Depending on why you’re sharing a story, you want to focus on one part of the continuum from before to after. Mixing them up can confuse your audience and depress your results.
When you’re writing an appeal, focus on before
So many well-meaning nonprofit people want to tell their donors and prospective donors all about their good work. About all the things they’ve done and all the great outcomes.
We all want to tell happy stories with nice endings!
But when you do, you cheat your reader of the opportunity to understand the why of your work. To feel it. You cut them out of the story.
When your reader sees an appeal that ties everything up nicely, what’s her role? Why does she matter? What do you want from her? You might share a lovely story, and tell it with skill… but if you’re hoping for a reaction – for action – then you’re sending a message that no action is needed.
Everything is good; it’s all taken care of. If there’s an ending to the story, especially a happy one, what’s left for the donor to do? Why would her gift matter now?
When you’re writing a newsletter, focus on the after
This is the difference between a story for an appeal and a story for your donor newsletter. That happy ending? This is where you can share it, with all the emotion you can pour into it.
The only caution is that you need to be sure you’re not setting the organization up to take the bows. Credit the subject of the story. And credit the generous people who made it possible.
With the appeal, your reader should understand exactly what it is you want her to do. And why.
With the newsletter, you want her to understand that her gift made a difference in someone’s story. That something changed for the better because she chose to act.
You can also include a bit of before, of course. One story’s ending might still leave others who need help. And it’s more than ok to include that. But when you have a wonderful story, with a happy ending and you’re just itching to share it? That’s your newsletter.
Between before and after
This is a good place for your thank you letters to live. Your donor has taken action and sent a gift, hoping to change what she read in the “before” appeal. But maybe that change hasn’t quite happened… yet.
You can stand in-between and paint a picture of the after your donor can expect to see. Think “because of you, this good thing will happen!”
Your thank you is full of hope, but the story isn’t over yet. Your lovely donor is now part of the story, and the action is still happening. Together, you’re looking at the future – one that will certainly be a little better because of her generosity.
If you think of those moments in your own life – when you stood between before and after – you have an idea of where your donor is at this point.
Share good stories – at the right time
I hope this simple frame will help you gather the kind of stories you need. And then help you use them where they will be most effective for you.
You have probably heard the ASK-THANK-REPORT-(FEEDBACK) formula. Thinking about the stories you’ll tell in this way will help you put your stories to the best use. And it will help you include your donor at every point in the story. Not just as a passive onlooker, but as part of your organization’s story. As an active participant in your mission.
And isn’t that the real goal?