7 Ways to Integrate Stories into Your Donor Stewardship | npENGAGE

7 Ways to Integrate Stories into Your Nonprofit’s Donor Stewardship Strategy

By on Jan 21, 2014


Donor retention is an on-going conversation in our sector and any time it comes up, people start to panic. We all know what we have donor retention troubles. But what are we actually changing in order to fix the problem?

Donor stewardship is a great place to begin making changes that can impact your donor retention rates.

You see, one of the key problems – especially for annual giving portfolios – is that there are lots of donors. Hundreds, if not thousands of donors that require our attention. Providing them with high impact touchpoints is ideal. But when you have lots of donors to talk to, it’s important to find ways to scale your efforts to maintain your sanity while reaching all of them. For instance, it would be unreasonable to expect that you could personally call 7,000 donors to thank them and provide them with an organization update. If you find yourself in a similar position, it’s time to look at storytelling as an option for scalable donor stewardship.

Take a Cue from Major Gifts

While most major gifts folks would probably tell you that nothing could replace the value of an in-person visit or phone call, the real magic of those activities comes for the opportunity to tell the donor a story. A story about a need, a story about someone who has been helped, etc. The good news is that stories can be told in a variety of mediums and are a great addition to donor stewardship.

Donors consistently tell us through surveys that they want to hear how their gift was used and what kind of impact they have had. Let’s give them more of what they want. Stories are a great way to highlight tangible impact and emotionally connect with the donor.

It’s More Than Just Another Thank You

Everyone likes to be surprised. I think this is especially true for donors. They have voluntarily parted with some of their hard-earned money in an act of good will to support a cause they care about. Conceptually, when making a donation, you expect nothing in return. But receiving a thank you and feeling appreciated are essential to donor retention. The effects of both can be amplified when stories are added to the donor stewardship mix.

Here are 7 ideas to consider when mixing in stories to your non-profit’s donor stewardship.

1. Start a thank you letter with a story

No one really wants to read yet another thank you letter that begins with, “On behalf of XYZ organization, I’d like to thank you for your recent gift.” BORING! Imagine opening a thank you letter that instead began with a quote from a heart-warming story of a person who benefited from a service that that gift funded. That’s a much better way to hook your reader and focus on articulating the impact they are a part of.

2. Share a profile story in a newsletter

Newsletters are a great way to keep donors apprised of what’s happening at your organization and to cultivate their continued interest in the cause. Instead of just the usual updates, consider adding in a story that profiles an individual who has benefited from a program or service that you offer. Or profile a donor about why they give to the cause.

3. Create a “donors only” page on your website

Donors and prospective donors are accessing non-profit websites at increasing rates each year. In addition to having a standard donation page and a page that talks about your organization’s needs, consider adding a page that showcases special “insider information” just for donors. It’s a great place to include stories for clients or staff members. This could even be a page that they are redirected to after they have made a gift online. Talk about instant gratification!

4. Change up your thank you phone call script

Now I know that earlier I suggested that we would all go crazy if we had to call every donor in our portfolios, but I hope that doesn’t completely deter you from making phone calls. They are a great tool for connecting with donors when used wisely. If you’ve got a donor on the line, be sure to go beyond the standard thank you and tell them a story about someone (or something) that they have helped.

5. A postcard is worth a thousand words

Well, actually the picture on the front of that postcard is. The copy on the back can complement it and tell a short, fun story. You can also give donors a website url to visit if they want to know more about the story.

6. Shake up your annual report

Are donors actually reading that annual report that you send them? Hook them in this year by telling them stories from last year. Rather than sharing factual program highlights, think about sharing highlights from your year in story form.

7. Host a storytelling time event

I don’t know about you, but as a kid I loved storytelling time at the local library and at school. As an adult, that hasn’t really changed. All over the country there are a storytelling events popping up that people can attend to listen to stories and connect with others. Let’s bring this concept into the non-profit world. You already know that your organization has lots of great stories. What better to appreciate your donors and connect with them, than to invite them to a storytelling time event.

These are just seven simple ways that your non-profit can begin to use stories as a part of your donor retention strategy. But the real magic of stories is in the consistency. Don’t just tell one story and expect landslide results. Be consistent with your message and stories told to your donors. They are making a real difference and they deserve to be reminded of that.

Read more about storytelling for the sake of donor retention and what other npExperts have to say in the new eBook all about donor retention!

npEXPERTS Donor Retention



photo cred:Flickr







Vanessa Chase Lockshin founded The Storytelling Non-Profit in 2012 to help nonprofit organizations articulate their impact to donors in a new way. Using narrative techniques to generate greater personal interest and accountability, Vanessa helps nonprofits improve their fundraising success. Vanessa’s fundraising career started at The University of British Columbia, her alma mater. Currently, Vanessa is president of The Storytelling Nonprofit, co-founder of Stewardship School, and board chair of Women Against Violence Against Women.

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