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Donor Participation Project Resources

The Power of Storytelling: How to Move Donors

Stories are the most powerful way to connect with donors and inspire generosity.

According to Dr. Russell James, a leading researcher on philanthropy, storytelling works by evoking emotion through creating a clear image in the mind of donors. The more a donor can identify with the story and feel empathy for the characters, the more likely they are to give.

Nonprofits often make the mistake of sharing complicated statistics, facts and technical reports with donors that fail to motivate giving.

While data is important for accountability, stories are what truly move people to act.

The key is to keep your story simple by focusing on one main character that donors can relate to and care about. Add specific details to help the donor visualize the story, but don’t make it too complicated with too many characters or plot points.

Dr. James’ research using brain imaging shows that donating is linked to “social-emotional valuation” in the brain, which depends on the ability to take the perspective of the character and feel empathy. The more a donor can identify with a character, the more the story becomes the donor’s own. This personal connection is what drives giving.

To craft an impactful fundraising story:

  • Define a relatable character
  • Share struggles and challenges they face
  • Highlight how donor support can lead to a meaningful victory.
  • Explain how the donor’s gift will make a real difference.

Stories give donors a sense of purpose and impact that spreadsheets never could.

While logical arguments matter for accountability, stories are what stir passion and giving.

Keep your fundraising story clear, simple and empathetic, and you’ll move donors to act. The key to unlocking generosity is sharing stories that forge an emotional connection between the donor and your cause. Stories give donors a reason to care, a sense of purpose and a vision for how their gift will create change. When crafting your fundraising campaign, remember the power of storytelling to inspire donors and move them to give from the heart.

View the full recording of this Donor Participation Project session with Dr. Russell James in our Resource Library.

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