How to Tell the Donors Story in Your Fundraising

How to Tell the Donor’s Story in Your Fundraising

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You already know that storytelling is the gasoline, the petrol, of the fundraising car.

We tell stories instead of merely stating facts because stories move people to action. You raise a lot more money with stories.

Maybe you’ve heard the Native American proverb: “Tell me the facts and I’ll learn. But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.”

But the surprising thing about fundraising stories is that no matter what story you tell, it needs to part of a meta-story – the story about the donor and how she makes the world a better place.

Let me give you an example. Say you’re an animal welfare organization. Because you’re a smart fundraiser, you don’t send out a message about how great your organization is at rescuing, sheltering, and finding homes for abandoned puppies. Instead you tell the story of a puppy: how he was found, shivering with cold and fear in a back alley, covered with injuries from abuse … how he now needs medical care, food, warmth, and lots of love.

That’s a pretty strong story, but you haven’t brought it home yet.

You need to bring the donor into the story. The story about the puppy may touch her heart, but the story about how she can be part of the puppy’s life will stir her to action.

The thing about human beings is that we are continually telling our own story. Most to ourselves, though sometimes to others. When someone is considering a charitable donation, their self-told story might be focused on the outcome of their giving, like these:

  • “I save an abandoned dog each month!”
  • “I fed homeless people at Christmastime!”
  • “I’m supporting research into the cure for cancer.”

Or the story they tell themselves might be focused on the kind of person they aspire to be, like these:

  • “I’m a good member of the community.”
  • “I’m a decent person.”
  • “I’m following the Scriptures.”

Here are some story themes I can almost guarantee are not part of your donors’ stories:

  • “I participated in sustainable development!”
  • “This organization has unique quality control measures.”
  • “I’m a member of this charity’s family of loyal supporters.”
  • “This wonderful organization has existed for several decades.”
  • “They are on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Snapchat!”

It’s not that those things are bogus or unimportant. It’s that they’re not relevant or interesting for the donor’s story. They’re boring. They don’t move the donor toward action.

Call to Action: the most important part of our shared story

The main way to make the donor part of the story you tell is to have a clear and compelling call to action or fundraising offer. That’s how you make the leap from a story that may be strong, but unconnected to the donor’s life and values – to a must-act call to donate now.

Effective fundraising offers consist of two things:

  1. A problem (sometimes an opportunity)
  2. A solution that the donor can make happen.

If the appeal is about that puppy who needs help, the puppy’s situation is the problem. The donor’s gift is to supply puppy chow or any other part of what the puppy needs.

A call to action that is not about specific action – like “stand with us” or “support our work” is not a compelling action. It rarely moves donors to give, because it doesn’t connect with the donor’s story.

Here are some other ways to put the donor into the stories you tell:

Directly address the donor

Use the word “you” a lot. And use the donor’s name. This helps you focus on what the donor will do more than what you, the organization will do. A simple pronoun count, where you count the number of times your copy says “you” to the number of times you use “I/we” (in all its forms, like me, ours, us, etc.), can guide you toward telling the donor’s story. Like this:

If you’ve ever wanted to help people who are suffering … if you’ve ever wanted to create real, lasting change in people’s lives … this is your time. Because the value of your donation goes through the roof when every single dollar you give will do so much good.

Compliment the donor

When you’re talking to donors, you’re addressing elite people who get it, who do more than their share to make the world a better place. Let them know that you see them that way by using statements like this:

I’m looking for compassionate, caring people who understand what it means to stand up for those in need. I’m looking for someone like you.

Look for ways to acknowledge donors’ positive qualities. And be sure to make it not just about what they do, but who they are.

Recognize the donor’s situation

You get a lot of requests like this. That’s because you’re a generous and caring person.

I know you’re busy.  This will take five minutes at the most – and maybe the best five minutes of your day!

Tell the donor what to expect

Let the donor know what will happen when they give. This primarily means painting a picture of what their donation will make possible, like this:

Your donation will help make it possible for puppies like Spot to live in comfort while they are healed from their wounds until we can find them their forever home…

You can also “predict” how the donor will feel when they give. While most donors already know this, it’s a great way to remind them of the joy of giving:

Every time you think about the gift you made, you’ll get a warm, happy feeling. Because you’ll know you saved a child’s life. You gave one child a chance to reach her potential.

Narrate the donor’s action

The important – and truly amazing – thing about fundraising is that when someone gives, they literally become part of the bigger story. Their giving helps change the outcome. You can help make that feel all the more real to donors by talking through the process of giving. Something like this:

So pick up a pen and your checkbook. Write a check for the amount that’s right for you to give. Then slip it into the enclosed envelope – we’ll pay the postage – and drop it in the mail. Now, while you’re thinking about it.

This may seem a bit strange. Clearly, the donor already knows how to donate. But by talking through it, you help them move from theoretically considering giving toward the action of giving. Don’t worry – it’s not some kind of “mind control.” Someone who doesn’t want to donate can’t be pushed into changing their mind by telling them this. It’s merely a nudge for those who are inclined to give anyway.

When you keep in mind that fundraising is really a way to connect like-minded people with your cause by putting compelling action in their hands, you can see how your storytelling can be far more relevant by including the donor in the story!

This material is excerpted from the Moceanic online course, “Your Blueprint for Donor-Focused, High-Revenue Fundraising Storytelling,” available only to members of The Fundraisingology Lab.

Want to know more about how to make your fundraising stories connect with donors? Join The Fundraisingology Lab by Moceanic. You’ll get the tools, the information, and the supporting community that will take you to new places in your fundraising career. Join the waiting list now and you’ll be the first to hear when the doors open again!

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  • Jeff Brooks

    Jeff Brooks is a Fundraisingologist at Moceanic. He has more than 30 years of experience in fundraising, and has worked as a writer and creative director on behalf of top nonprofits around the world, including CARE, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Feeding America, and many others.

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