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Developing Compelling Stories That Will Strengthen Our Donor Relationships.

Notes from a Nonprofit Storytelling Conference: Developing Compelling Stories that will Strengthen our Donor Relationships

I recently attended the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference in Chicago in search of speakers and content for our upcoming Neighborhood Nonprofits Symposium.  There were over 600 attendees from across the US and around the globe, with a wide diversity of mission areas and lots of fascinating people to meet.  The focus of the conference was to understand the power of stories, learn about the craft of storytelling, and to work on developing compelling stories that will strengthen our donor relationships.

Throughout the conference I heard stories of donors and their personal connections to a mission that made me cry (sign of a great story!).  In one session we shared with other participants our stories of what brings us to serve certain missions and I discovered an unknown connection of my nonprofit activities to that of my mother’s when I was a young child.  Best of all, I found some wonderful speakers to bring to our conference in late March that I know you will enjoy and learn so much from.  Watch for a save the date soon.

I found the conference fascinating, though at times it felt like an all you can eat buffet.  There were so many good topics and speakers over the course of the two days that I wish I had brought several clones to attend all the wonderful sessions.  I could write a book from the notes taken, though want to share with you what I felt were my five key takeaways.

Developing compelling stories that will strengthen our donor relationships: It’s not about you

You may have the most wonderful organization in the nonprofit world, but donors really aren’t all that interested in hearing the details of your operation. They are most interested in being a solution to the problem.  You are there to link the hand of the donor with the hand of the beneficiary.

Understand your donor’s story

There is likely a deep personal story behind some of your best donors. They didn’t just wake up one day and decide to give money to shelter the homeless.  Asking a donor what in their history brings them to the mission may amaze you.  Telling them your story first will go a long ways to get them to open up.  Showing vulnerability in this way creates a safe place for the other person to reciprocate.  Once you clearly understand what motivates a donor, you can better shape an opportunity to help them make a difference.

Make the problem human sized

A donor will be overwhelmed if you tell them that 10,000 kids in their community go to bed hungry each night and they will feel incapable of having an impact. Tell them one individual child’s story, how they can ensure that he is receiving nutritious meals each day thanks to their generosity and your donor will readily step up to solve a human sized problem.  When you report back to the donor, tell them about the impact their funds had on that one child.

Keep your stories simple

You may be a social services agency with ten wonderful programs helping all sorts of people in the community, but if you try to tell your donor all about them at once, you will quickly lose their attention and their gift. Stay focused on their area of interest and only that.  To them, part of what you do is far more interesting than all of what you do.

Head or Heart?

As you craft your stories, apply this test to measure the donor impact. Are you telling facts or talking about changing lives?  Focus primarily on that which appeals to the heart.

Stories are what link us together as family, friends and community. Understanding the story of your donor is crucial to giving them a voice.  Incorporating stories in the work of your nonprofit will better help you help those you serve.


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