After all the hard work poured into 2014’s year-end fundraising campaigns, it’s necessary to step back and examine what worked, what didn’t, and why. Nonprofits should evaluate their figures from last year and dig deep to find out which factors strongly influenced some efforts to fare better than others and what areas need improvement.

Bloomerang noted that some of last year’s greatest fundraising successes actually formed from efforts in no way tied directly to an organization or fundraiser. The site identified these phenomenons and identified what qualities they all had in common. The key to the most successful fundraisers last year? They all occurred spontaneously and were largely impacted by honest storytelling.

The No-Make-Up Selfie for cancer research

This particular trend began after actress Kim Novak was criticized for her looks at the Oscars in 2014. Author Laura Lippman chose to post a selfie of herself without any make-up on in support of Novak. Lippman’s goal was to establish solidarity among women against society’s high expectations for a perfect appearance. The selfie trend quickly caught on and women from all over the world began tweeting and posting their own selfies, completely devoid of make-up.

Since Novak was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010, the posts morphed into a campaign to donate to Cancer Research UK. Somewhere along the way, the hashtag #breastcancerawareness was added to the images already tagged with #nomakeupselfie. The result was an overwhelming amount of support for Cancer Research UK. Shortly after, men around the globe joined the force with #manupandmakeup to attract attention to and funding for Prostate Cancer UK.

The Telegraph reported that in just 48 hours, Cancer Research UK had received £2 million in donations. These funds took the nonprofit completely by surprise as they had nothing to do with the initial ask or campaign effort. Once the organization heard about the trending hashtag, they simply posted links on their Facebook and Twitter accounts alerting parties where they could donate funding, whether through the Cancer Research website or via text message.

The Ice-Bucket Challenge for ALS

Similar to the No Make-Up Selfie experiment, the Ice-Bucket challenge asks participants to nominate friends and family members to get involved. Initially, a small movement, this particular trend went viral as people posted videos and photos all over social media of themselves enduring a bucket of ice water dumped on their heads to support ALS. In 2013, the ALS Society raised $2 million. In 2014, and to date, the group has raised nearly $100 million.

What is it about these stories that yields so much success? It all lies in storytelling and a nonprofit’s ability to break down communication barriers between themselves and their donors.

Ask the right questions

Nonprofit Hub noted that many charities are too focused on reporting their organization’s stories to intrigue new donors, rather than asking the right questions.

Leaders of nonprofit organizations need to ask themselves which person, family, or group has really had an impact on their experience for the duration they’ve been involved with the program. Find out why nonprofit staff recalls certain recipients of funding and why employees want to help these people. Document what the recipient’s struggles are, both at home and more generally, in life. Stories have to be true, real, and not watered down to have the strongest effect on constituents.

Also, don’t try to pile all of the information and relevant details into a single story. Feel free to spread out details across several platforms.