How to Collect Compelling Stories to Use in Your Fundraising Work

<p>Storytelling has become an essential aspect of nonprofit fundraising. In recent years, it has transitioned from a rarely mentioned topic to the focus of numerous <a title="The Non-Profit Narrative" href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener">books</a>, <a title="The Storytelling Non-Profit" href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener">websites</a>, and <a title="The Non-Profit Storytelling Conference" href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener">conferences</a>. This shift is due to the significant impact storytelling has on successful fundraising.</p><p>As nonprofit professionals, we need to maintain constant communication with our donors. This communication can occur in person, via phone, or through newsletters, emails, and mailed letters. Regardless of the method, engaging dialogue without stories can become stale and ultimately uninteresting.</p><p>To maintain donors' emotional involvement and excitement about our work, we must incorporate stories into our fundraising efforts.</p><h3>Two Types of Nonprofit Storytelling</h3><p>When discussing "storytelling" in nonprofit fundraising, we typically refer to one of two things.</p><p>The first is the "story" of your nonprofit – the overall narrative conveyed by your organization about its work, encompassing your overarching vision and mission. This story is contained in your <a title="How to Write a Case for Support for Your Non-Profit" href="">case for support</a> and should permeate all your nonprofit's communication with donors and prospects.</p><p>To learn more about creating a compelling, big-picture story for your organization, read: <em><a title="The Story of Your Non-Profit" href="">The Story of Your Non-Profit</a>.<br /></em></p><p>The second type of storytelling your nonprofit will engage in, which is the focus of this article, involves sharing the stories of individuals and groups associated with your organization. Excelling in this area is crucial because it makes your work more tangible and engaging for donors.</p><p>In this article, we will discuss how to gather captivating stories from people your organization has helped and who are working with your nonprofit, which you can share with prospects, donors, and supporters.</p><h3>Four Categories of Stories to Collect for Your Nonprofit</h3><p>There are four different categories of stories you should collect and use in your donor communications:</p><p><strong>Client Stories</strong> - The first type of stories you should collect are client stories – accounts from those who have been helped by your nonprofit. Hospitals collect patient stories, homeless shelters gather stories from those they have assisted, and schools obtain parent and student stories. These narratives, told by those directly impacted, are the most compelling stories to share with your donors.</p><p><strong>Staff Stories</strong> - The second type of stories to collect are staff stories, preferably from your program staff, detailing the work they do and the impact it has on your clients and the communities you serve.</p><p><strong>Donor Stories</strong> - Next, you should collect donor stories – accounts from donors, board members, and corporate sponsors explaining why they give to your nonprofit, what they admire most about your mission and programs, what positive changes they have seen from your organization, and why they believe others should join and get involved. This group of stories also includes volunteer stories, told by volunteers about why they donate their time to your nonprofit and what they have witnessed while working in the field.</p><p><strong>Community Stories</strong> - Finally, you can collect and use community stories. These are narratives told by local leaders, politicians, civic and business leaders, and everyday people in your community about the impact your work has had on improving the community and the world.</p><p>Each of these four types of stories can be incorporated into your fundraising letters, newsletters, phone calls, and in-person meetings to more effectively convey your nonprofit's story.</p><h3>How to Gather Stories for Your Fundraising Efforts</h3><p>So, how do you solicit these stories and obtain permission to share them? Here are four rules for collecting great stories to use in your fundraising work:</p><p><strong>Rule #1: Explain the Importance of the Story</strong></p><p>Inform each person you contact for stories why their accounts are important and how they will be used as part of your organization's overall fundraising efforts. Ensure they understand why their specific story would be compelling for donors to hear.</p><p>Emphasize the essential role they play in the ongoing success of your nonprofit through the stories they provide.</p><p><strong>Rule #2: Make a Direct Ask</strong></p><p>Don't shy away from making a direct <a title="What is a Fundraising Ask?" href="">request for a story</a>. If you want people to share their stories with you, you need to ask them. Say something like, "Would you be willing to tell me about your experience with our organization?" Or, "Could I sit down with you for an hour to hear about how you got involved with our nonprofit?"</p><p>In-person conversations are more effective for collecting stories than phone calls, but they are not always possible. Allocate 30-60 minutes for your conversation, and be sure to adhere to the agreed-upon time.</p><p><strong>Rule #3: Collect More Information Than You Will Use</strong></p><p>You may not always share complete stories with your donors. You could be using the stories as part of a 30-minute in-person fundraising ask, or you might include a three-sentence summary of the story in one of your fundraising letters.</p><p>Regardless of how you plan to use the story, gather more stories than you need and collect more information from each storyteller than you will use. This allows you to select the best information to include in your fundraising materials.</p><p><strong>Rule #4: Ask Open-Ended Questions</strong></p><p>Lastly, ask open-ended questions to uncover the most emotionally resonant aspects of each story. For example, if you ask a former client, "We provided your son with a $10,000 scholarship, right?" They will answer "Yes." However, if you ask, "How did we help your family?" they may discuss the scholarship, the hope you provided for their children's future, or their surprise at their children attending college.</p><p>This type of story – emotional and heartfelt – is far more compelling than mere facts and statistics. Ask open-ended questions to let people share their stories, and then use follow-up questions to delve deeper into the heart of the matter.</p><p>&nbsp;</p>

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