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The best way to tell the story of your donors

Nonprofit Storytelling

Donors are a tremendous asset.

And not just because they give you the funding you need to implement your programs.

They have so much more to offer than just their cash.

They also have a story. And that story is powerful.

Their story can give you insights into why people choose to support your organization.

Their story can give you insights into how to improve your donor’s journey.

Their story can help you move others to become donors.

Let’s take a closer look at the story of your donors and explore how to best capture and utilize this asset.

Understanding the donor’s story

The first step to unleashing the full power of a donor’s story is to understand it, completely.

This takes time and commitment from you and from your donor. The information you will need to fully understand their story and be able to tell it well may take multiple interviews and discussions.

But this is time well spent and most donors enjoy the opportunity to share their story and they are often flattered and impressed when you take so much time to explore their story and learn how to tell it well.

When working with a donor to understand their story, here are some of the big picture things you are going to want to ask them:

  • How did they first learn about your organization?
  • Why were they interested in learning more about your organization?
  • What did they want out of the relationship they were building with your organization?
  • How did they first choose to get involved? Why?
  • What convinced them to make their first donation?
  • How did they feel at every step of the way? What emotions did they go through at each stage of the process?
  • What has changed for them since establishing this relationship with your organization? How do they feel now?

When you ask these questions, give them time to think through their answer. Tell them there is no rush. You want their most thoughtful response.

You will gain useful insights as they respond to these questions.

You will learn, from a donor’s perspective, what they liked about your organization, how your marketing made them feel, and why they chose to build a relationship with you.

These insights are important and you will learn a lot from them. You may even have great ideas on how to tell the donor’s story.

Go ahead and sketch out the plot of their story. Identify what key elements of the story need to be told.

But don’t think that you are ready to tell their story just yet.

If this donor has a powerful and emotion-filled story, then you will know this is a story that needs to be told, but you don’t yet have all the information you need.

After this first round of questioning, you may have the necessary plot line, but you don’t have the all-important details that will really make the story come alive.

CLICK HERE to learn how to tell Emotional Nonprofit Stories!

Detailing your donor’s story

Now that you have a general sketch of the story and you know the key events you want to include in the story, the next step is to spend more time with the donor sketching out the details.

The details are extremely important. The details are what bring the story to life for your audience.

You know the general plot line, what happened in the story to get them to this point, and you know a bit about the emotions that were involved for the donor at this time.

Now you want to really dive in and get the nitty-gritty details.

No detail is too small.

Now you want to ask them much more specific questions surrounding each key events of the story.

Say a key moment of the story is when the donor made the decision to make their first donation. Here are the key questions you need to ask:

  • What time of day was it? What Month? Year?
  • Where were they exactly when they made this decision?
  • What were they doing? Were they standing or sitting? What kind of chair were they on?
  • What were they thinking? What were they feeling?
  • Who were they with? Did they talk about this decision with anyone? What was said?
  • Did that change how they felt? Did that change their thinking?
  • Then what happened next? Then what did they do next?
  • Where did they go next?
  • etc., etc…

During this phase of questioning you really want to hone in on sensory details.

You want to ask about the time of year and the time of day because you want to understand the setting and the senses involved.

Was it winter? Was their snow on the ground? Was it raining?

If so, did that affect their mood?

Was it early in the morning over coffee? Or was it over dinner in the evening? Was it at a social gathering?

You want to know if they spoke with anyone so that you can capture dialogue that will help you tell the story.

The donor may think you are a bit odd asking so many questions, but just explain to them that they have an amazing story and you want to be sure you can tell it well and accurately.

All of these details, seemingly trivial, are actually extremely important. They help your audience build empathy toward the donor.

Why? Because the more details about the donor your audience can relate to (regardless of how trivial) the easier it will be for them to identify with the donor.

And the more closely they identify with the donor, the more they will connect emotionally with the story.

CLICK HERE to learn how to tell Emotional Nonprofit Stories!

Telling their story

Now that you have the key events of the story and the nitty-gritty details that help your audience visualize the story in their mind, now you are ready to tell their story.

Now you have all the pieces.

Start by explaining the setting. Your donor is the hero of this story and you want your audience to understand who their context.

Start by explaining how they learned about your organization and why they were interested in building a relationship with you.

Be sure to provide the details. Put them in context.

If they discovered your organization through a Google search, then put them at their computer, explain what the room looked like.

Explain what the donor was looking for, what they were hoping to find. Explain why they were searching in the first place.

Then explain how your donor felt once they learned about your organization. What made them excited about the work that you did? Why were they interested?

Provide a backstory here if relevant.

Then be sure to discuss the big decision to make their first donation.

What were their fears or concerns? What made them feel confident enough to give you their money?

And be sure to provide the nitty-gritty details.

Where were they when they made this decision? Did they discuss this with anyone before making their decision? Include that dialogue as part of the story.

Then you want to describe what happened after the donation was made.

How did the donor feel? Did they tell anyone about it?

What did they receive in return from your organization? How did that make them feel?

Are they happy they made the donation? What have they gained since making this decision?

Be sure to include their emotions here. The audience will want to know how they felt and if you tell the story well, including all of the nitty-gritty details, then the audience will be going through the same emotions as the donor.

This is how you move them to take action themselves. They will want to have the same emotional connection to your organization as the donor in your story.

Once you complete the story, offer your call to action and give them their chance to have that same experience.


  1. Donor’s stories are powerful assets for your organization
  2. Take the time with the donor to really understand their story
  3. Make sure you understand the key plot points and also the nitty-gritty details so you can paint a clear picture for your audience.
  4. The details should be focused on sensory information
  5. Combine the plot line with the details you’ve uncovered in order to tell a powerfully effective donor story
  6. Give your call to action at the end so your audience will have the opportunity to have the same experience as the donor

Keep doing good work,

Jeremy Signature




1 comment… add one
  • Keith

    I can honestly say the effort to do this has powerful benefits. One such benefit is to encourage myself to keep doing what I do.

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