By Kurt Worrell Senior Vice President, Donor Engagement and Nonprofit Strategies at StoryCause

Fundraisers use stories every day to talk about our mission, share the impact of philanthropy, and inspire donors to create a long-lasting emotional connection with our organization. Stories are powerful. They provide an important framework for how we understand our world by:

  • Passing down knowledge from generation to generation.
  • Enabling us to grasp complex concepts and make them relatable. People are much more likely to absorb the meaning of a story than the meaning of an excel sheet.
  • Creating emotional connections to the characters, villains, guides, conflicts, plot lines and storytellers.

An area many nonprofits struggle with is the collecting and telling of their donors’ stories.

When we build campaigns in fundraising, we are always trying to tell a story that a donor will identify with. One sure way to achieve this is to engage the donor around their story and their “why”. In a campaign, part of the feasibility study process is capturing the transformational donors’ stories. But what if we could capture donors’ stories for all giving levels?

Here are seven important reasons to pursue donor stories at all giving levels:

  1. Ask a donor if there was an event or influential person that motivated them to make their first gift to your organization.  This information will uncover that specific donor’s “why” and provide a basis for building a lasting relationship. Also, knowing what motivated first gifts to your nonprofit organization provides invaluable insights to drive your acquisition  and creative decisions.
  2. Ask a donor about the impact they wish to have with their philanthropy. Knowing what is most important to that donor gives you the opportunity to create targeted future appeals that match your strategic planning to their intentions. Personalized appeals based on the impact donors want to have is a winning combination.
  3. Life events drive donor behavior. Did you know that most donors write their first will at age 43? This is motivated by life events like marriage, having children, advancing careers, growing wealth, buying a home or taking care of aging parents. All of these events will have a positive or negative impact on that donor’s ability and desire and plan for current and future giving. Capturing what is happening in your donor’s life will deepen your relationship, and your understanding of when to talk to that donor about gift planning.
  4. Understanding a donor’s state of consideration is also something that can be captured as you learn their story. What type of giving are they planning in the future? What types of gifts would they consider? What are the times of year and channels they prefer to engage with you? All of this information will enable you to create those deep one-to-one relationships.
  5. By capturing their story, we can also immediately identify qualified leads for major, planned and mid-level giving opportunities. Asking a donor if they would like to learn more about gift planning options while they are sharing their story and contemplating their legacy is an ideal opportunity to identify hand-raisers. Matching capacity information with donor intent, life-stage, desired impact, and state of consideration leads to perfecting the time to ask for a meeting.
  6. Donor stories provide a wealth of data for future marketing content. It is always a struggle to pull together content for monthly newsletters and profiles on your website. Donor first person accounts are so powerful when included in appeals. Having a library of this content at the ready is something every marketer wants.
  7. A recent study we conducted showed that donor’s at every donor lifecycle increase their giving in the 12 month period after engaging and sharing their story. See here for the full study.

As fundraisers, our strategies are driven by data. By capturing donor’s stories we move away from macro trends to micro trends to created targeted, personalized experiences. Asking donors to tell their stories will provide the critical data that will help your nonprofit organization move from one-to-many relationships, to one-to-some and ultimately one-to-one.