Stories are a fundraiser’s best friend

Fundraisers have gone gaga over stories and for good reason. Storytelling is integral to every phase of fundraising, from making the case for support, to asking for gifts, to saying thank you, to building donor loyalty.

reading_to_children_6215A picture may be worth a 1,000 words, but a story can be priceless — if told right. And therein is the kicker. All stories are not created equal when raising funds is the goal.


As I described recently to a group of Anabaptist communicators, storytelling that inspires generous giving:

  • Aims for the heart. Warm and fuzzy beats cold and calculating every time. I’m not talking mushy here, but appropriate emotion.
  • Is specific rather than general. In the words of Mother Teresa, “If I look at the masses, I will never act. If I look at one, I will.” The wider the organization’s reach the more important it is to focus on a narrow swath of the work.
  • Is donor, not organization, directed. Drone on about organizational triumphs and watch eyes glaze over. But mention lives transformed and see eyes light up. Consider this: If a story falls on uninterested ears, has it been heard?
  • Includes a call to action. Don’t just lead the horses to water and then leave them thirsty. The goal is to pull the listener/reader/viewer into the next chapter of the story.


Stories entertain. They challenge. They can bring us to tears. But if our purpose in telling a story is to inspire generous giving, we need to:

  • Start with the end in mind. If you don’t know where the story is headed, it’s guaranteed the reader/listener, viewer won’t either.
  • Keep the reader/listener/viewer in mind. Make lives changed, not an organization sustained, the focus of the story.
  • Include an emotional trigger, but do so with integrity. No cheap tricks.
  • Generosity is in the details. Paint compelling word pictures. Nonfiction isn’t synonymous with bland and boring.

Stories, when crafted and told well, really are a fundraiser’s best friend. Donors like them, too.

For more about the integration of storytelling and fundraising, see:

Every fundraiser needs a John the Baptist

A fund raising riddle that’s no joke


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