Great fundraising is about one person, not a bunch of people. Great fundraising is about a single person who needs the donor’s help, not the cause we’re fighting for. 

When I started in fundraising, I made a bunch of mistakes. One of the mistakes I made was assuming that facts sold a donor. For example, I thought that the fact that worms stole nutrients from a child should move someone to give on its own. Or that the size of the problem made a positive impact on the donation decision. I thought that if I explained how big a problem is – nearly one in four children have their growth stunted due to malnutrition! That’s horrendous and we need to do something about it.

As nonprofits, a lot of us talk about the number of homeless families, abandoned dogs on the streets, children who don’t move beyond a sixth grade education, lack of musical literacy in today’s youth, name your cause. We talk about the big picture of the problem.

This is a less effective way of fundraising. Instead, we should be telling the story of the one.

It’s called the story of the one because you’re telling the story of how one beneficiary’s life was like before the nonprofit helped, during the transformation, and after the organization helped. It’s a story that emotionally connects the reader to the cause. Giving isn’t just a logical decision, it’s an emotional one. You need to emotionally connect with someone to overcome their attachment to their hard earned dollars and show them that your organization can be the tool that connects their desire to support a cause with the ability to do good work. You’re the hands and feet to their desire to give back.

It’s not homelessness as a problem, it’s talking about a man named John, a war veteran, living on the streets of Atlanta with no place to lay his head.

It’s not about arts education for underprivileged kids in inner city Detroit, it’s about a little girl named Julia who began to dream of playing in an orchestra when she was exposed to classical music education.

It’s not about the millions of kids in poverty, but about Juan, a Guatemalan child whose family doesn’t even have a garden to put food on the table.

It’s all these stories of a single person whose life is changed because of the donor.

When we start talking about the bigger problem — like homelessness or malnutrition — the donor feels helpless. If I give $50 to help Julia get an arts education, I know it can make a difference. If I have only $50 to give and you tell me about the 2 million children in the US who receive no arts education, I no longer believe it will make a difference. I can’t help 2 million kids, but I can help Julia.

The one person you’re focusing on in the story has a problem. A problem that he or she can’t overcome on their own. It may be a problem getting an education, a problem finding a job, a problem of not enough shelter space — yes, your story could focus on a single animal if that’s the space your charity is in — whatever the problem is, your donor is needed to solve the problem.

You should focus the story on the single problem. John has no where to lay his head. He needs a place to stay. The problem isn’t “homelessness,” the problem is that John doesn’t have a home. When you begin expanding the story to reflect on the larger problem too quickly, it loses the impact for the donor. Don’t worry, you can talk about the bigger problem later in the appeal, now, we’re focusing on John and his immediate problem.

In your next fundraising appeal, test telling a story of a single person who needs the donor’s help. Tell the circumstances of that single person. You’ll find the connecting the donor with the story of a single person will have a positive impact on your organization’s fundraising.