Reasons I Hate Story Telling As a Fundraising Strategy.

Over the past several years, storytelling has become the hot topic for many development offices.   Every conference I’ve been attending has some session on storytelling. Board and staff practice stories. Obsess about having stories. Worry they don’t have the right story to tell
That is precisely the wrong direction for a fundraiser to be facing.

The story that matters is not yours. It is theirs–your prospects and donors-that matter.  Your most important role in a cultivation meeting is to elicit your prospects stories. What matters to them about your organization or cause?  What do they hope to accomplish through their gift?

I’m not suggesting that as a fundraiser you don’t share your passion for your organization. Fundraising , after all, is about relationships and those are often created by shared interests. But I’m leery of practiced stories that may not connect with your prospect’s interests. You want to show the impact–a word I use a lot– of the work your organization does in a way that meets the prospect’s passion.

It’s the same reason I wish the word “pitch” was banned from the philanthropic vocabulary. There is nothing donor centric about talking AT them.

We’ve all heard that we have two ears and only one mouth and we should use them proportionally. In other words, listen twice as much you speak. Being too focused on telling your story may turn that proportion on its head.

It’s not just that that storytelling uses a lot of word. It is the getting to that story that too often makes you control the flow of conversation and to control means you are doing most of the talking.
Instead of focusing on your story, I would encourage developing what is coaching circles is called powerful questions. And the power of these questions is that it gets the prospect to explain what matters to them and to talk themselves into translating that interest and that passion into souls support.

Janet Levine works with nonprofits and educational organizations, helping them to increase their fundraising capacity, learn more about their donors, and help their board members to be more effective.  Learn more at  While there, sign up for the monthly newsletter.


About janetlevineconsulting

For over 20 years, Janet Levine has worked for and with nonprofit and educational organizations, helping to grow their advancement programs. Her consulting company, Janet Levine Consulting, serves a wide range of organizations from small, all-volunteer agencies to major national organizations. She regularly teaches courses in non-profit management, fundraising and grant development, both face-to-face and online at In addition to her nonprofit work, Janet brings years of experience as a business and sales manager in the for-profit sector. She has an MBA from the Graziadio School of Business at Pepperdine University.
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