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Stewards of Donor Stories By Sheila Dolinger

Christian Leadership Alliance You are stewards of donor stories so put the power of personal testimony to work for your ministry.

By Sheila Dolinger ~

Once upon a time, there was a ministry with glossy brochures, frequent social media posts, and a colorful website with carefully researched facts and financials. Yet alas, the ministry did not connect with donors, and their development officers did not live happily ever after.

So what’s missing from this story? The power of story itself. When ministries overlook the power of storytelling in their communications, especially from their donors’ perspectives, they neglect one of the most fundamental sources of true human connection. If you want to move people, glorify God, and create a memorable, emotional experience, you need to learn how to steward your donor stories well.

How do you tell a good donor story?

Start by asking a few basic questions: Who is the audience, and which donor would connect best to this audience? For example, you could interview one of your most generous female donors to reach other women, or use a prominent business owner to speak to other entrepreneurs. The more narrow your audience, the greater chance you have to speak their language through a peer-to-peer donor story.

Also, what is your goal in telling this story? Maybe you are trying to inspire your audience to support a particular program, increase large gifts during year-end, or promote online giving. The more you focus on a specific goal, the more your story will inspire others to do the same.

Five Tips for Stewarding Donor Stories Well

So you’ve identified your audience, your featured donor, and the goal of your story. Now it’s time to get moving with interviews and writing, filming, or recording. As you move into the process of capturing stories, here are five tips to tell a story with impact

1. Make your donor the hero (not your ministry)

The focus for any donor story is what God is doing in the donor’s life through your ministry. Believers engage when they see God at work, so focus on the testimony. At the very hint of a “ministry infomercial,” eyes glaze over, and you’ve lost permission to connect.

2. Start in context

Begin by showing or describing who the donor is in the context of their personal life. For example, open your story with a business owner chatting with employees, or a retired couple during morning devotions at their kitchen table. Vivid details, emotional sound bites, and tight screen shots help imprint the donor’s world in your audience’s mind.

3. Keep it Moving

People bore easily, so engage them up front with a hook that keeps them guessing about what happens next, or wondering how the story is going to turn out. Introduce an obstacle, surprise, or a quote that makes people sit up and take notice. And be mindful of length. Limit video or audio stories to no more than three minutes, and include interesting b-roll of the donor in action, not just talking to the camera. Print pieces should be no more than 800-1,000 words (which can be broken down further into brief blog posts, posts, and tweets) and supplemented with professional photography, eye-catching subheads, and short pull-out quotes.

4. Stir up emotions

Maya Angelou once said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Your job as a storyteller is to stir emotions, not to be manipulative, but to put forth content worthy of attention. Include clips or quotes of your donor that delight, inspire, disrupt, or hit a nerve. The audience should be able to relate to the donor, feel their conflict, and ultimately, take action themselves.

5. Build up to the “STAR” moment

When the final line is read or the last scene fades to black, your audience should know exactly why they took this journey with you and your donor. What was the critical message in the story? Story-telling expert Nancy Duarte calls this the “STAR moment,” or Something To Always Remember. Best of all, when your audience latches on to the true meaning of the story, they will be eager to re-tell it.

When you’re planning your next ministry communication, remember to ask: How can I put a donor story, emotion, and a clear message behind my efforts? Facts can be boring, and financials fade away, but people never forget a great story.


Sheila Dolinger is chief storyteller for the National Christian Foundation. For examples of donor stories with impact, visit

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