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Donor Participation Project Resources

Asking the Right Questions Elicits Donor Victory Stories and Gifts

Nonprofit fundraisers know that connecting donors to the impact of gifts is key to building lasting relationships and major gifts.

According to fundraising expert Dr. Russell James, the most powerful way to make this connection is by helping donors tell their own meaningful “victory stories.”

Dr. James explains that victory stories show how donors’ values and life experiences connect to a nonprofit’s mission. By asking donors questions about what first inspired their support, their vision for change, and what is most meaningful to them about the work, fundraisers can uncover elements of donors’ stories.

They can then share how current and future priorities of the organization will help achieve donors’ visions of victory.

For example, a fundraiser might ask, “What first motivated you to support our cause?”

A donor may share a personal experience with a health condition, exposure to poverty in childhood, or parents who modeled philanthropy. The fundraiser now understands more about what shaped this donor’s passion for the mission.

Fundraisers can also ask, “If money were no object, what would you change about this issue?”

Donors’ responses point to the victories they most want to see. A donor supporting a food bank, for instance, may say they want to solve the root causes of hunger through policy changes and job training programs. The fundraiser sees this donor is motivated not just by filling empty bellies but by empowering people to provide for themselves.

Finally, fundraisers can ask, “What is most meaningful to you about what we do?”

The answers reveal what moves and inspires donors at the deepest level. A donor to an animal welfare organization may say “reuniting families with the pets they loveā€”that is what motivates me most.” The fundraiser now understands the most emotionally compelling ways to engage with this donor are by sharing pet adoption stories. In summary, the key to unlocking major gifts is understanding what drives donors at the level of identity and values.

By asking questions that reveal donors’ victory stories, fundraisers can connect priorities that shape donors’ self-concept to the work they support.

The result is inspired donors and transformational gifts.

View the video recording of this presentation with Dr. James in our Resource Library.

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