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Honing Storytelling Skills as a Fundraising Professional

By Dennis Meyer posted 07-11-2023 09:00


Cultivating new skills is important for professional development in any career, but it’s especially valuable in the nonprofit sector where roles often overlap. Due to the pandemic and current state of the economy, many fundraising professionals now have to take on new responsibilities to meet nonprofits’ increased need for support. 

Soliciting this support requires fundraisers to get creative to genuinely connect with supporters. Spending time cultivating your storytelling skills can help you improve your asks, strengthen donor relationships, and jump start your professional growth. 

Let’s discuss how to hone your storytelling skills and why you should.

Why All Fundraising Professionals Need Storytelling Skills

Even if you’re not in a marketing role at your nonprofit, being able to effectively communicate your organization’s story to stakeholders, donors, and the public is crucial. Nonprofit storytelling plays a key role in:

  • Donor acquisition
  • Soliciting donations
  • Showcasing impact to supporters and funders
  • Volunteer recruitment
  • Donor recognition and retention 

With storytelling skills, you’ll be able to weave data and emotions together to communicate your nonprofit’s mission, needs, and successes in more compelling ways. As a result, your messages will stand out in readers’ minds and make them understand on a deeper level why they should support your organization. 

Develop Your Own Storytelling Skills

Every story you tell in emails, fundraising appeals, event announcements, and elsewhere should follow the basic structure of a narrative. 

All stories need to have a clear main character, begin with a problem, and end with a solution. 

This commonly looks like a beneficiary dealing with hardships that your nonprofit and donors help alleviate, but that’s just the beginning.

To move beyond the basics and become a genuine, successful storyteller for your organization, follow these three tips:

Be on the Lookout for Stories

As a fundraising professional, you interact with plenty of people inside and outside your organization on a daily basis. The first step to cultivating strong storytelling skills is to realize that each one of those people has a story to tell. 

Storytelling isn’t about creating stories from scratch, but rather collecting and building on the real stories of your nonprofit’s impact that already exist. These stories could come from:

  • Beneficiaries
  • Donors
  • Loyal volunteers
  • Staff members
  • Community members

As you talk with these groups, listen to their experiences and keep a running list of those with stories that represent your organization especially well. Ask them questions and gather testimonials. With their permission, these testimonials can then be developed and shared with supporters to garner more support. 

Focus on the Three R’s

Once you have a real story to build on, how do you develop it into an impactful testament to your nonprofit’s success? These tips on direct mail fundraising suggest focusing on the three R’s of powerful storytelling:

  • Resonance: Stories must resonate with the reader emotionally to make an impact. Use details that humanize the story’s main character, and include direct quotes whenever possible. Does the story stir an emotion in the reader? Is it a powerful narrative that will stay in your supporters’ minds long after they’ve read the account?

  • Relevance: Don’t make your nonprofit the sole hero of the story—make sure the donor has a place, too. Donors should be able to easily see where they fit into a story so they know what action to take and why.

  • Respect: Most importantly, your stories must be respectful of both the subject (such as a beneficiary or staff member) and the reader. Avoid eliciting negative emotions like fear or guilt, and don’t change the truth of the real story. If your story’s subject wishes to use an alias or not be photographed, honor their requests. 

Each of these three R’s are skills you can build over time through practice. Once you can do so successfully, ensure you infuse each one of these concepts into every story you tell for your nonprofit.

Learn From Others’ Success

Finally, get inspired by examples of successful storytelling that you see in other nonprofits’ marketing campaigns

Take note of any messages that resonate with you, and reflect on the reasons they made an impact. Did you feel involved in the story? Did it spark a personal connection?

Once you identify effective tactics, share them with your team and incorporate the same techniques into your own communications. Don’t forget to learn from your own successes as well by analyzing your messages’ performance and adjusting strategies accordingly.

If you want additional inspiration, listen to the advice of others in the nonprofit community. For example, NXUnite’s list of nonprofit podcasts includes multiple podcasts that discuss storytelling with nonprofit leaders.

Honing your storytelling skills will not only help your organization build relationships and cultivate fundraising success, but they’ll also help you thrive in your own career

Practice makes perfect. Truly developing these skills will take time. Keep learning, and know that your efforts will pay off in the long run.