This article on storytelling is designed to help you create compelling stories that will engage your donors and get them excited to support your organization. In particular, we’re going to focus on why storytelling is important for building relationships with potential donors and supporters. Much of that will depend on who is your target audience, and what are their goals, interests and values.

Why is Storytelling Important to Donor Relations?
People who are considering providing support to your organization – whether that takes the form of actual dollars, in-kind resources or donations of their time – are interested in what’s happening in your organization. Rather than provide them with a day-to-day log of activities and events, it’s more compelling to share stories about the work you’re doing and the impact this work has had on your clients and the community. Potential donors want to know how their support is impacting the larger issues, be it youth development, the environment, or arts and culture. And, your stories can provide the anecdotal or qualitative information that puts a “face” on the services you provide.

How Do You Select the “Right” Stories to Include in Donor Communications?
If you want to create stories that are engaging or intriguing to your donors, you need to find out what’s important to them. How do you know what stories will resonate with your audience? You may have to do some research to get a clear sense of their values and priorities. From a formal perspective, you may consider doing surveys of a subset of your target audience. There are a number of free or low-cost online survey tools (such as Survey Monkey: that will enable you to quickly capture ideas and priorities. Or you can have informal conversations with members of your target donor audience (via phone or in small groups) to get a sense of what issues are important to them. If you’re reaching out to larger donors, you can read their literature (such as annual reports) to find out their giving history, goals and priorities.

What Makes a Client Experience Become a Compelling Story?
Think about it from your perspective – when you choose to buy a book, by what types of stories are you most intrigued? Would it be a romance novel? Perhaps non-fiction biographies or memoirs? Or, maybe you’re more excited by science fiction or fantasy stories? Most good stories have an interesting main character that wrestles with some issue or challenge. What makes the story compelling is how they overcome the challenge and achieve some sort of transformation. The same principles apply to your stories. How are your clients being transformed by your services? How do your services change lives? Where is the WOW! Factor in the work you’re doing? Stories can create the human connection between potential donors and your organization.

How Can You Begin to Craft the Message?
Use the Problem – Action – Result model:
* What was the main problem or issue faced by your clients or community? Identify one client or “main character” and be specific about his/her situation. Give your character a name and personalize the story.

* What action did your organization/staff take to address the problem? Relay pertinent aspects of the service or program your organization offered.

* What was the result of the action? Share relevant details about how your main character’s life has changed as a result of receiving your services. What was their WOW! Factor?

How Can You Use Stories to Communicate with Potential Donors?
Once you have created compelling stories about your clients, you can include them in:
* Annual appeal letters
* Annual reports
* Website content
For example, on your Testimonials page or other online sites include feedback and success stories from clients (e.g., an organization blog or other social networking website).

If you would like more tips and suggestions on how to create compelling stories for your organization, you can download an mp3 of this article at:

To read stories about the work InStep Consulting is doing with its clients, visit our blog at:


Author's Bio: 

Colette D. Ellis is a Coach, Consultant, and Speaker. As Founder of InStep Consulting LLC ( in New York, she helps people and organizations discover their competent advantage™ via Team Building seminars and Strategic Planning retreats. She bases her intuitive approach on nearly 15 years leading creative and engaging programs for government, not-for-profit and corporate organizations across the United States. Her expertise includes Career Planning, Leadership Development, Stress Management, Team Building and Workplace Diversity. Her signature seminar, Discover Your Competent Advantage™, helps people identify and leverage their strengths to succeed in the workplace. In 2008, Colette joined a select group of national facilitators for Turning the Page: Building Your Library Community, a unique leadership program funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. In 2006, The Consultation Center of the Yale University School of Medicine certified her to facilitate Coping with Work & Family Stress™, a work-life balance program.