Feeling gratitude had not been on Dave Tally’s mind for the previous six years as he had been homeless and living on the streets of Tempe, Arizona. He readily admits that losing his career as a landscaper was because of his own poor life choices of drinking and drugs. One day in 2010 he bent over to pick up a penny at the light rail station and noticed a backpack on the bench. He opened it and found a laptop, iPod and $3,300 in cash. He had lost his driver’s license because of a DUII and his bike was in the shop for repairs. Oh, what he could do with this money. During the next two hours he imagined all that he could buy.

Then he took the backpack to his boss where he was working at the homeless shelter. He said, “I don’t want this money, because it would cause more problems than it would solve.”

There was no identification in the backpack until his boss found a hidden pocket with a small jump drive that had a resume on it. He emailed the college student, who thinking that no one would turn it in, hadn’t even looked for it.

Dave was accustomed to life on the streets where he was treated as if he was invisible. After returning the backpack, he gained national media attention. He used his 15 minutes of fame to tout the nonprofit homeless shelter that had helped him stay alive. People saw the news report and were overwhelmed with Dave’s honesty. And then gifts to help Dave started pouring in.

At the last report Dave was clean from drugs and alcohol, had an apartment, job and has created a community garden using his landscaping skills to feed the homeless. He said, “It’s a great feeling to be able to put back into society after being a person who was dependent on society for so long.” In an interview he said that he doesn’t want anyone to think it is easy, because each day he has to work at not being the person he once was.

Dave keeps a gratitude journal, “I am grateful for waking up. I am grateful for putting my feet on the floor. I am grateful for waking up to see the sun come up and not being up when the sun comes up.”

What story will you write in your appeal letter? Here are some hints:

  • Remember that just like Dave’s story, the reader will respond to one person’s story more than a group of people.
  • Keep your year-end appeal strategy focused on one person throughout your emails, letters, blog posts and social media.
  • Similar to a mystery novel, drop hints of the story in each post to keep people reading and connecting with your nonprofit.