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Fundraising: The art of storytelling and persuasion

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Kathy Andersen

Kathy Andersen

Kathy Andersen

As the end of the year approaches, nonprofits are making final asks to donors for year-end gifts. A key part of the effectiveness of “the ask” comes down to how well the story  is told.

the heart of your fundraising ask, two things will make a difference – your ability to tell your story, and your ability to persuade your audience.

 Your ‘ask’ should be a persuasive story

Fundamentally, any fundraising ask is an act of persuasion. The most powerful element of persuasion is how well you tell your story.

So, what are the successful elements of a persuasive story?

This question takes us back to the time of the Greek philosophers. Professor Gary Orren of Harvard University, proposes the ‘LEAPS’ framework, which incorporates five elements of persuasion influenced by the wisdom of the early Greeks.

First, is logos: Your objective reasoning that presents facts and data for the case you want to present.

Second, is ethos: The moral character that connects the sense of right and wrong to your audience.

Third, is agora: The place and time in which your story can be told so that people can best hear your message.

Fourth, is pathos: The emotional appeal that connects your story to the heart of your audience.

Fifth, is syzygy: The way that you align the logos, ethos, agora and pathos so that your story flows.

Frame your ask

Once you have these five elements of your story, you need to effectively frame the story.

Barbara Minto, author of “The Minto Pyramid Principle,” developed the Situation – Complication – Solution approach as a method to frame a successful proposal. We can equally apply this approach to framing a persuasive story.

First, outline the current situation. What is the background and the current circumstances that set the scene?

Second, what is the complication that has caused you to ask at this time? Is there a particular challenge or issue? What is relevant and significant to the prospect about the issue at hand?

Third, what is the solution you are proposing? Consider the different ways in which your prospect could give based upon their particular situation.

Maybe your prospect is interested in a one-time gift, maybe they are interested in an endowment, maybe they have a particular area of interest.

Maybe your prospect has a legacy they want to create. Be creative in your solutions.

Always start with a sharp ax

Abraham Lincoln said, “If I had nine hours to cut down a tree, I would spend six hours sharpening my ax.”

Creating a persuasive story is like sharpening your ax. If you ‘wing’ your ask, you won’t make much of an impression on your prospect.

By taking your board members through this process, you will find that you will have a larger army of persuasive story tellers and your contributions will grow even more rapidly.


Kathy Andersen, president and CEO of Development Connect, can be reached at ka@developmentconnect.com.

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