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Donor Participation Project

The Power of Storytelling: How Nonprofits Can Raise More Money

Storytelling is the key to motivating donors and raising more money for nonprofits. According to Dr. Russell James, a leading expert on philanthropy, “At the heart of philanthropy is story. Story starts with character. Without a relatable character, the fundraising story is dead.”

To craft a compelling story, focus on three elements:

  1. make your character specific,
  2. make the story simple, and
  3. make it empathetic.

Provide meaningful details about your beneficiaries or donors to help readers visualize them. Keep the plot straightforward and avoid complicated subplots. And choose empathetic characters and situations that will resonate emotionally with your audience.

Surveys and donor insights can help you understand what kinds of stories your supporters will find most compelling. You may find certain locations, life events, or shared experiences that connect your mission to their personal narratives. Use these connections as the basis for your stories.

For major gifts, tell the donor’s story, not your nonprofit’s story.

Ask open-ended questions to discover a donor’s life experiences, values, and motivations. Then identify what about your work aligns with their self-identity and finds common ground. Describe how a gift can help them achieve a meaningful victory or life purpose. When people see their wealth and your cause as interconnected, they give more.

To build long-term donor relationships, share a variety of stories over time about the all facets of your nonprofit’s work. While each story should motivate action, together they demonstrate the full scope and impact of your mission. Consider using surveys, videos, and direct mail to share both individual stories as well as the collective power of your supporters.

Fundraising is hard work, but stories make it compelling. Stories that evoke strong emotions inspire people to give generously. By crafting simple yet empathetic stories and understanding how to make your cause personal to each donor, nonprofits can motivate more and larger gifts to further their mission. Use the power of storytelling to turn your vision into your donors’ passion and purpose.

View the full recording of this session in our Resource Library.

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