HOW TO: Tell the Story to Your Donors


Photo by Francisco Osorio

After Friday’s Give to the Max Day training, I came back with great, practical ideas from experts like Beth Kanter and Katya Andresen on how nonprofits can tell their stories to effectively convey the importance of their mission. The best part is that they dug deep and outlined easy steps anyone can follow.

Why is it important to tell a good story? Because, as Katya said, one person’s story will have a better chance at getting empathy from your target audience. But the more people you talk about in your story, the less compelling your story is.

Find the Story of One Person to Tell

Every nonprofit has a story to tell. Instead of using statistics—which are the death for storytelling, says Katya—find one person your organization has served, or talk to a volunteer that has done something for you. Interview them and find out what their story is. Don’t talk about the masses; by honing into the story of one person, you’ll maximize your chance of gaining empathy from the people you’re asking to donate.

Here are two examples to show you:

Bad storytelling:

“Hundreds of senior citizens are left without health insurance, and consequently can’t afford their medications.”

Good storytelling:

“Rose is 83 years old and six months ago, she reached the “Donut Hole” in her insurance. She can’t afford her asthma medications anymore, so she’s been taken to the emergency room five times so far, gasping for air.”

Be Emotional But Show Your Work

Your nonprofit does great and important work. So when you tell the story of that one person, show how your organization is working to help that. Give concrete examples of how you helped or can help that one person and make a difference in their lives. For example:

“When Rose asked for help, we quickly worked to help find a prescription drug program that significantly lowered her costs and we’re able to cover her medication until her insurance kicks in again. Rose is back on her prescribed drug regimen, and hasn’t had an asthma attack ever since.”

Tell Your Donors How they Can Help

Spell it out for them in a few, easy steps. And explain how is their donation—no matter what amount—going to be a worthwhile investment.

“Rose isn’t the only person who is struggling to find ways to pay for their prescriptions and we need your help to reach others. Your donation will go towards paying for medications and medical services that people like Rose, who need it but can’t afford. Please help by mailing back your donation in the preprinted envelope.

Thank Them With a Story

When you get that donation, you’re gold. More than likely, you successfully won the empathy of the donor but you’re still on shaky grounds. What comes after the donation is almost more critical than how you made the ask.

Get into your donor’s shoes. When they made a donation, they believed in it. They thought they were doing some good, making a difference in someone’s life. So if you don’t reaffirm that belief, they may get discouraged and you could lose them forever.

So thank them. Profusely. Don’t just send them an auto-generated email. Send them a personal message. Send them a story of how they helped someone. Tell them how you couldn’t have done it without them, and how grateful that person is for what they did.

Thank you for your $50 donation, Eric! Your $50 went towards paying for a prescription drug plan that is helping someone like Mark, who joined our program last month. Mark is 65 years old and has diabetes. He’s a happy man, a grandfather to 3 girls. When he retired, he couldn’t keep up with his medical bills, but your contribution made it possible for him to never skip a beat. Now he’s overwhelmed with joy and relief that he gets to take his 7 year-old granddaughter Alexa fishing on the weekends without having to worry.

These are just some examples of how you can gain compassion from donors. Try different things and see what gives you the results you’re looking for.

How else would you tell your story?