How to Use Stories On Major Donor Visits

Four tips for telling better stories to major donors.

Sharing stories in direct mail, on a website or in social media posts are fairly common these days. These are all great channels to reach many donors, in particular those who are a part of the annual giving segment. But what about major donors?

Recently I received a great question from a reader about telling major donor stories and today I’ll be answering it in the Storytelling Q&A.

“I completely understand how important storytelling is to fundraising and am interested in using it more. I’m a Development Officer and all of the donors I work with are my organization’s major donors. Most aren’t receiving our direct mail or other communications, which feature stories. Can you share some tips on how I can tell stories to these donors?”

Although your organization may segment your donors based on financial giving levels (as most organizations do), you’re absolutely right to think that there are ways to be sharing stories with major donors, too. Once upon a time, I was Development Officer and telling stories to donors when we would talk on the phone or meet face-to-face was an important cultivation tool. Here are my top tips for telling more and better stories to major donors.

Tip #1 Do not assume that they don’t want to receive annual giving solicitations or communications. 

An essential part of being donor-centric is that you know and respect things like a donor’s communications preference. If you have never asked your major donors if they want to receive additional communications, they might be missing out. Here’s how I would ask them if they want to receive this: “You and I keep in touch pretty regularly and I provide you with a lot of updates about projects that you’ve funded over the years. But our organization has a lot of initiatives and we report about these to donors in things like our direct mail, newsletters and email. You’re currently not receiving any of these and I wanted to check to see if you would be interested in receiving them so that you can see what else we’re up to.”

Tip #2 Know what makes the donor tick.

In theory the idea of telling stories is great. But before you go nuts and make every meeting story time, it is super important that you know your donor. Would the like to hear stories? Are they more of a numbers person? What kinds of stories would they appreciate? Take some time to figure out who your audience is and what they would appreciate. Only then can you decide if you should even be telling them stories and what stories to tell.

Tip #3 Practice telling stories ahead of your meeting.

Have you ever rehearsed before giving a presentation? You can do this with stories, too! Telling a story is a bit like a performance rather than the usual conversation you might have during your meeting. That’s why I recommend practicing the story ahead of time. Test it out on a friend or family member. Ask them what they thought was most interesting about the story and see if there are any more details you can add to those parts.

Tip #4 Make it experiential.

Storytelling is a wonderful tool that can be used in many different mediums. It helps us to share an emotion and a message to our audience. But what can be really impactful is if the story is experiential. By that I mean that the donor is able to actually experience what you are talking about. Since the donor is a major donor, this might be something special that you can do for them as a part of stewardship or cultivation. Is there some project, program or service that they can experience first-hand? How would you create that experience for them?

Those are my top tips for telling stories to major donors. If you’re working with major donors, I hope this post sparked a few new ideas for you!

Cross-posted with permission from The Storytelling Non-profit.