When I Don’t Hate Storytelling As a Fundraising Tactic

In my last blog, I took storytelling to task.  Lots of people emailed me, mostly—a bit to my surprise—agreeing completely.  Then a friend and valued colleague email to add what she called her “two cents.”  Her boss does not like staff commenting publically, so we agreed that I could use her email with some changes so her anonymity would be preserved.

“I want add an idea to your “Reasons I Hate Story Telling” post,” she wrote.  “The issue isn’t to tell stories, I agree, but when to tell stories. Have good stories in your back pocket, and use them to engage the donor to talk about their connection to your mission, or to help further their story. It’s a tool of engagement, and a good one, for when the donor needs some prompting to tell their story.”

I think the last of her comment is most important:  “to tell their—underlined a trillion times—story.”

The stories we tell should be triggers, affirmations—ways not just to move our prospects but to move them to reveal their passions, hopes, and dreams.  We want them to share their excitement for what we do, to tell us what moves them and how they want to be a part of the work we do.

Our stories should focus on our impact (I know, I use or perhaps overuse, that word a lot) and how we change lives, make a difference, do some good.  These don’t have to be big things, just the everyday occurrences that really do hold sway.

One of my clients works at an organization where, she says, “nothing happens.  Things are always the same.”  And that is the point of what her organization does—provide stability and calmness into their clients otherwise chaotic, frightening, or confusing worlds.  Her stories are often about constancy and the dependability her organization provides its clients.  On the surface, this does not wow, but it reminds her donors of how they help to provide a rock for people who would otherwise feel they are drowning.

Sharing stories is a way to build relationships.  It’s when you are too focused on telling them that you may turn building rapport into performance.

I once dated a man who, at first, appeared to be witty and charming, with a wonder way of choosing just the right aphorism or telling a wonderful anecdote.  A few months into our relationship I realized that no matter what the topic, no matter who we were with, the conversation soon moved into familiar territory:  a place where he could “drop” his few memorized sayings and tell one of his three stories.  And because he had moved the conversation in a particular direction, often the others were turned into listeners instead of active participants.


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 http://janetlevineconsulting.com.  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 http://courses.lmlearningstation.com/. 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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