Why most nonprofit storytelling drives away donations

There’s a very important point about nonprofit storytelling at The Far Edge of Promise: Why Better Storytelling Won’t Lead to Larger Gifts.

How many of us have said, We need to tell people our story?

And how often have we meant by that, If we could put our facts and beliefs into other people’s heads, they’d become faithful donors?

That’s exactly what we don’t need to do:

Everyone agrees that donor engagement is a key to receiving a commitment. But donor engagement doesn’t occur because we tell them what we want them to know. Instead, donor engagement occurs when they tell us what we want them to know. My counsel is that a donor is ready to make a meaningful gift when she says to me, “Jason, we need that new science building!”

The stories we tell should not about ourselves — how effective, and cool, and world-changing we are. The stories should be about how donors connect to the cause we mutually care about.

The donor who tells you that you need a new science building is one who has made your story part of her story. That doesn’t happen when you endlessly brag about yourself. It happens when enter the donor’s world by telling her story as it relates to the cause.


Comments

12 responses to “Why most nonprofit storytelling drives away donations”

  1. Yes! Great post. I like to tell fundraisers that we have 2 ears and 1 mouth for a reason, to listen twice as much as we talk – in order to learn more about the donor’s needs and wants and not “just” tell OUR story. (Author unknown about the 2 ears, one mouth saying – I didn’t make it up, but heard it somewhere.)

  2. Yes! Great post. I like to tell fundraisers that we have 2 ears and 1 mouth for a reason, to listen twice as much as we talk – in order to learn more about the donor’s needs and wants and not “just” tell OUR story. (Author unknown about the 2 ears, one mouth saying – I didn’t make it up, but heard it somewhere.)

  3. This is so true. Too often nonprofit are guilty of navel gazing and only seeing things from our perspective. Fundraising is about developing relationships. Think about it it! How many friends do you have who spend all their time droning on about them and never bother to find out about you?

  4. This is so true. Too often nonprofit are guilty of navel gazing and only seeing things from our perspective. Fundraising is about developing relationships. Think about it it! How many friends do you have who spend all their time droning on about them and never bother to find out about you?

  5. This is one of my favorite topics. And a great reminder to readers that when they are stumped for a story to “tell” pause for just a moment and ask the person sitting with them, the donor, the volunteer, the board member, to share an example of how they experience the organization. Ask them for an example of a “mission moment” that caused them to feel something deeper about the people you serve or the work in general.
    You are correct that communication is two-parts: talking AND listening. Thanks for this power-packed post!

  6. This is one of my favorite topics. And a great reminder to readers that when they are stumped for a story to “tell” pause for just a moment and ask the person sitting with them, the donor, the volunteer, the board member, to share an example of how they experience the organization. Ask them for an example of a “mission moment” that caused them to feel something deeper about the people you serve or the work in general.
    You are correct that communication is two-parts: talking AND listening. Thanks for this power-packed post!

  7. This is a topic I have heard over and o er again on nonprofit marketing blogs but I rarely hear practical examples of what these stories look like. Do you justsend out newsletters with tons of profiles of donors and their experiences? I understand that these are the stories we need to tell but I want more info on HOW to tell them.

  8. This is a topic I have heard over and o er again on nonprofit marketing blogs but I rarely hear practical examples of what these stories look like. Do you justsend out newsletters with tons of profiles of donors and their experiences? I understand that these are the stories we need to tell but I want more info on HOW to tell them.

  9. Hey, Josh. Let me clarify a little: Most of the stories you tell should be about the work your donors are funding. (Profiles of donors is not a bad idea, but only doing that would be pretty uninteresting.)
    Two main ways to make the stories you tell be about donors:
    1. Make it clear that donors make the work possible, that without their giving, none of this happens.
    2. Talk about the work in the donors’ language and speak to their understanding, not the professional insider way. That generally means simplify, simplify, simplify.
    Not hard to do. But you’ll stand out if you do.

  10. Hey, Josh. Let me clarify a little: Most of the stories you tell should be about the work your donors are funding. (Profiles of donors is not a bad idea, but only doing that would be pretty uninteresting.)
    Two main ways to make the stories you tell be about donors:
    1. Make it clear that donors make the work possible, that without their giving, none of this happens.
    2. Talk about the work in the donors’ language and speak to their understanding, not the professional insider way. That generally means simplify, simplify, simplify.
    Not hard to do. But you’ll stand out if you do.

  11. I love this article–thanks, Jeff!
    when I read it, it made me think of Andy Goodman’s point about always telling three stories in one: 1) the story of self, 2) the story of us, and 3) the story of now.
    Donor profiles are a great way to tell a 3 in 1 story. Another extremely effective way is to co-create the story, which is getting easier thanks to technology.
    Group Health Foundation recently did this with their Gift of Health Wall and it was a huge success on many levels. http://www.grouphealthfoundation.org (Hoping this example is helpful to Josh.)
    Thanks again for the great post!

  12. I love this article–thanks, Jeff!
    when I read it, it made me think of Andy Goodman’s point about always telling three stories in one: 1) the story of self, 2) the story of us, and 3) the story of now.
    Donor profiles are a great way to tell a 3 in 1 story. Another extremely effective way is to co-create the story, which is getting easier thanks to technology.
    Group Health Foundation recently did this with their Gift of Health Wall and it was a huge success on many levels. http://www.grouphealthfoundation.org (Hoping this example is helpful to Josh.)
    Thanks again for the great post!

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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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