Nonprofit Storytelling: How to Share Impact Stories to Make Your Donors’ Hearts Flutter

September 27, 2018
5 minutes

Heart flutters. Stomach flip-flops. Perhaps a tear trickles down their cheek. All in the name of inspiration, hope, and the belief in good people doing good work. 

How incredible would it be to move your donors to those profound, emotional reactions? With all the competition out there for donor dollars and relationships, your org's goal is to stand out so you can keep current donors around as well as bring in new ones. That’s no short order! So how do you do it? 

Fundraising friend, it’s time to hop on the storytelling bandwagon. Now, you might be thinking, “But if every organization's out there telling stories, is this the best way for our organization to catch donors' attention?” Valid question, pal. Stories are a dime a dozen in the nonprofit sector. To be effective, you’ve got to tell your stories the right way. 

Consider stories from nonprofit darlings like Pencils of Promisecharity: water, or Their stories are different from others you might read or watch. How? Most of the stories they share are impact and success stories, which are the type of stories that catch donors’ hearts on the reg. 

Let’s talk about some simple ways for your organization to share stand-out impact and success stories.

Three cheers for our donors!

If you take one tip from this article, make sure it’s this one: Make your donors the heroes of your impact story. It's a simple concept... so why do nonprofits miss what could be a golden opportunity to celebrate donors? 

In general, most donor stewardship leaves donors feeling mehhhh. To be memorable in their hearts, minds, and wallets, you've got to remind donors of their exceptional awesomeness—and your gratitude for that radness. As you share impact and success stories, cast donors as the hero to celebrate the results their donations made happen. 

In addition to making donors the hero, your impact story could feature the donor and their giving story. We love what The San Francisco Foundation has done for their donors.

An artistic rendering of a white face in profile on a blue-purple gridded background. The ace has yellow ears, blue eyes, and dark hair.

Wait, what did I give to again?

Donors don't need you to hire a skywriter to deliver a thank you. Fundraising wizard Penelope Burk’s research has shown time and time again that donors want to know 1) how their gift was used and 2) what impact it had. Stories are a great way to give them what they want. But. It has to be the right story.​ 

​Pop quiz time! Which of the following statements is more meaningful to donors? A. “Your gift was able to feed 500 people in need,” or B. “Your gift made it possible for Karen to have a hot meal this week.” You get a gold star if you answered B! 

Research has shown that donors want to understand the impact of their gift. Understanding becomes easier when you bring specific and tangible details to life. When it comes to your storytelling, what does that mean? Rather than trying to tell a story about a whole program or all the people in it, find a way to make it real. Paint a picture; a visual for donors to see in their mind’s eye. Connect the dots for them. 

It's amazing what Best Friends Animal Society is doing! In one of their videos, they share that donors helped 76,000 animals find furever homes (amazing!), and to complement this, they show pictures of the lucky animals who were adopted.

Use a winning story structure

Every story you’ve ever read or watched has a beginning, middle, and end. In nonprofit storytelling, one of the things we need to emphasize for donors is the conflict and resolution of the story. Why? Conflict shows a need—and remember, donors give because there are needs to be met. Resolution shows how donors were able to make a difference. Keeping this framework in mind will help you tell a better impact story.

Make it multimedia

We’re living in a digital world, so put that pen down! You have countless exciting ways to tell stories through social media channels, videos, photos, audio—the list goes on. As you think about the final presentation for your impact story, look for ways for ways your story can span across multiple medias. 

UNICEF USA does a great job of this on their Facebook page, creating photo albums specifically to showcase impact and success. Not only does this make them shareable within their Facebook community, now UNICEF USA can send their donors a link via email that'll drive traffic directly to the photo album. Add that to your list of smart ideas! 

Donors are awesome. We know this. Let’s remind them that we know this. Stories are a great way to say, “I see you over there. Yep, you. Being all awesome and human and what not. Go on with your awesome self!” These tips are just a starting point to get your creative juices flowing to tell memorable stories. Most importantly, remember that every impact and success story you share helps your organization leave donors with that mushy-gushy-ahh-I-just-love-that-organization-they're-the-real-deal type feeling.​

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