3 questions to help you to engage donors with your stories

engage donorsMany of the clients that I’ve worked with do amazing work and make a difference to people’s lives but often, they struggle to engage donors with their stories. Sometimes, this is because they’re used to working in a specific sector and use too much jargon or insider language. Other times it’s because funding comes from government or other statutory bodies that require ‘reporting’ in quite a different way from donors and so they aren’t in the habit of writing in a more engaging, emotive way.

Whatever the reason, there are 3 key questions that you need to ask yourself in order to make your story – and therefore, your non-profit – more engaging to potential and current donors. In other words, to raise more money and keep donors enthusiastic about your cause.


It doesn’t matter if you have an ‘obvious’ cause – such as a cancer, poverty, children – the questions that you need to ask remain the same:


1. Can you put yourself in your donors shoes? This is probably the most important question you need to ask yourself if you want to develop an inspiring story that won’t just catch your donors attention but will encourage them to put their hands in their pockets. In order to answer this question, you need to have a good idea of who your donors are – or are likely to be.  Once you know that, you will have a clearer idea of the work that you do that resonates with them, the way that they like to be communicated with, and the aspects of your work that are important to them and most likely, therefore, to gain their support.


 You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.

Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird 


2. What is your why? Donors care more about why you do what you do, than what you do.  Your ‘why’ reflects the values of your non-profit – why it does what it does – and in turn, donors can start to see themselves and their values in your messages. Ultimately, that recognition will help to inspire them to give to your cause and to continue to be involved and inspired by your work.

Simon Sinek is the leading expert on discovering your why – and this TED talk that he gave in 2009 illustrates exactly why your ‘why’ will encourage loyalty. He’s talking about consumers but the same rules can easily apply to donors and non-profits. They are, after all, one of your customer groups.


3. What would happen if your doors closed tomorrow? Every fundraiser should have a clear idea of the need behind their non-profit’s work but what would the world look like without you – and where would the gaps be – what would the landscape look like for your beneficiaries 6, 12 or 24 months after you ceased to exist? That will help to give donors a real sense of why you are important and why what you do is needed – and of course, why you are the organisation to provide it.


There are, of course, many other messages that you could choose to weave into your story and:

  • knowing your audience,
  • getting to the heart of your mission/your ‘why’
  • explaining the need for your work

are all central to your story helping to form the structure of better stories to engage more of your donors.


No-one should underestimate the power of good storytelling.  It is vital for every non-profit.  After all, we all work in a crowded marketplace with literally hundreds of messages competing for our the attention of our donors. Getting it right by understanding your potential donors – and fuelling their imagination – is key to your survival if you want to raise more money.


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