Complete your Profile

  • Avoid using your real name as username.
  • Avoid using a photo of yourself for your profile picture.
[frontend_admin form="143705"]
Donor Participation Project

Three Rules for Creating Compelling Characters in Fundraising Appeals

To motivate donors with your fundraising appeals, you need to tell a good story. And the heart of any story is its characters. According to fundraising expert Dr. Russell James, there are three key rules for crafting characters that will resonate with donors:

Make it specific.

Vague stories and generic appeals don’t create mental images or emotions. Share details about your beneficiaries, like names, faces, personal stories and challenges. In one study, adding a child’s name and photo nearly quadrupled the likelihood of donors giving to help that child. Specificity helps people visualize the character and builds empathy.

Keep it simple.

While details are important, too much complexity confuses donors and diffuses their empathy. Having many characters or an overly complicated plot can be counterproductive. It’s best to focus on one main character or group. If featuring multiple people, present them as a cohesive unit. In one experiment, donations to help six children doubled when they were described as siblings in the same family. Simplicity equals clarity.

Generate empathy.

A clear mental image is not enough—it must elicit an emotional response. Choose characters and share details that will trigger sympathy and compassion in your donors. For example, an appeal featuring one hungry child will typically raise more than mentioning thousands of faceless children. And avoid unsympathetic characters, like showing donors the harsh conditions of prisoners. Your stories need characters that donors can and want to identify with.

The bottom line: Tell stories, not statistics.

Give donors visual details, a simple plot, and empathetic characters they can relate to. Help them see through your character’s eyes and feel what they feel. Master these storytelling rules, and your fundraising appeals will become much more compelling. With stories that turn a cause into a personal journey, you can inspire lifelong donors who give from their hearts.

View the full recording of this session in our Resource Library.

Leave a Reply