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Attracting Donors: How to Craft Your Appeal

Emma Keating
Published:  02/27/2019

Two women talkingThis article is adapted from a 2019 AHP webinar series event presented by Jessica Cernosek, executive director of The Seton Fund, and Nathan Cernosek, owner of Cernosek Creative LLC.

Today, donors are faced with more opportunities to give than ever before. In a world where multiple philanthropies are competing for attention, how can an organization set itself apart to attract donors? Marketing experts Jessica and Nathan Cernosek say the key to crafting your appeal is to paint a convincing story around your idea, using philanthropic strategies and classic storytelling techniques to garner support and inspire your donors.

Step 1: Excavation

To create an appealing story, however, organizations must research exactly what its needs and capabilities are. Your appeal is incredibly important to recruit and retain donors, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg. There is so much more to discover beneath the surface. Therefore, don’t begin with an appeal – begin with an excavation. To excavate something is to expose it, to bring that thing into the light. It’s all about uncovering your organization’s need and the opportunity for donors to help meet that need.

Many organizations begin the appeal process with the end goal in mind, but that’s not enough. The big picture is necessary, but you also want to delve into the details. How will you accomplish your goal? How will meeting your need make an impact?

Here’s what you should look for before drafting an appeal:

  1. The Challenge you must overcome, such as not enough physician scientists working to cure cancer
  2. The Goal of your campaign, such as to cultivate the next generation of physician scientists dedicated to fighting cancer
  3. Your Solution to get there. How will you do it? What is the cost? How are you uniquely qualified to execute this strategy?
  4. The Opportunity for the donor to be a hero. How will the donor play a part?
  5. The Impact this will have on the community. Who will benefit? What are the long-term impacts after the immediate challenge is resolved?

Step 2: Appeal

Next up comes the story, and that’s your appeal. Storytelling is one of the most ancient persuasion tools, with key elements dating back to Aristotle. When a donor feels emotionally connected to a story, they are much more likely to give.

Make sure to include these three things:

  1. Plot: Having a narrative structure hooks the reader or listener and keeps them interested throughout the story.
  2. Problem: Present a crisis that needs to be resolved and make it urgent. Why now? Show what’s at stake. Fill this section with facts and be honest about the challenges you may face.
  3. Protagonist: This is your donor. You are the expert, but you can’t accomplish your mission without your contributor’s help. Their involvement is critical to the success of your campaign, and they need to know they’re the hero of the story.

The Cernoseks recommend hiring a professional storyteller for this, whether he or she is already a member of your team or a freelancer looking for work. Just as philanthropy requires a specialized skillset, so does storytelling. Together, fundraising executives and the storyteller can work together to create the most compelling narrative.

Once you’ve established your case, provide a solution that involves and motivates the donor. This is their opportunity to participate, and it’s your chance to combine the excavation and storytelling process. Fine tune your strategy and let your donors know how you plan to roll it out. Show the urgency and tell your donor what they can do about it.

From building emotional context to presenting statistics and data, combining storytelling and philanthropic techniques will help you tell your story, and it will encourage donors to tell it as well.

For more information on how to craft your appeal, watch the full webinar.

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Meet The Author

AHP logo
Emma Keating
Communications Team
Association for Healthcare Philanthropy

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