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Donor Participation Project

Why Details and Simplicity Matter in Donor Communications

When crafting fundraising appeals, it’s tempting to share all the complexity and nuance of your cause. But while accuracy and depth of knowledge are important for nonprofits, too much complexity kills donor motivation. Fundraisers must learn the art of simplicity.

According to fundraising expert Russell James, “A story with 8 main characters is complicated. Adding even more details, 8 names, ages, and pictures didn’t help. It made a complicated story even more complex, donations fell even more.” Instead, focus on one compelling character or group to rally donors around. Details about a single sympathetic person or community in need are far more powerful than stats about thousands of faceless beneficiaries.

James cites research showing that donations doubled when people received the name, age, and photo of one child in need compared to a more general appeal. But when the number of featured children increased to eight, with names and details for each, donations fell by over 40 percent. Our brains simply can’t process that much information in a personally meaningful way.

The solution is to find the emotional “sweet spot” with enough details to trigger empathy and mental visualization but not so many that the message becomes muddy or emotionally overwhelming. Think of your fundraising stories like close-up shots in a movie. We need to see the humanity of one person or family to truly care about their plight before panning out to the bigger picture.

Fundraisers should start with a clearly visualized character – be it a single beneficiary or a unified group.

Focus on the details that make them relatable, like shared values, experiences or community. Explain how your organization made a meaningful difference in their lives through a concrete victory story. End by tying their journey to the greater impact of donations. This simple yet emotionally compelling narrative structure can turn your cause into the donor’s personal tale of triumph over adversity. Above all else, keep your messaging clear and focused. Simplicity moves donors to action. Complexity confuses the mind and dulls the heart.

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

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