[Guest Post] The Most Important Story Fundraisers Can Tell - and it’s probably not one you’ve thought about

Today, I'm honored to introduce you to Vanessa Chase. Vanessa is a storytelling training powerhouse. Fundraising Coach blog readers may remember her from last year's Stewardship Tutoring Hour. I regularly share Vanessa's tips and blogs in my coaching with clients and I'll get to share the stage with her again in Seattle at Nonprofit Storytelling Conference. Vanessa will be giving a training for The Nonprofit Academy called "The Story of You – How to create and share your personal story to raise money," so I asked her to share a bit of her story here. You'll learn the surprising power of your own story and three powerful questions to help you tell it.

You can read more about Vanessa and her approach to storytelling at her blog www.TheStorytellingNonprofit.com/blog/. And you can find her on Twitter @vanessaechase

The Most Important Story Fundraisers Can Tell (and it’s probably not one you’ve thought about)

Vanessa Chase Lockshin

There is immense value in telling stories to donor audiences. Stories can show your organization’s work in action. They can tangibly connect donors to what they make possible. Stories can communicate shared values and beliefs that drive giving.

Ultimately, tell a story is an act of making (or deepening) a connection. Philanthropy is also all about connections and relationships, so it is easy to see how stories have found a thriving home in fundraising offices.

But for all the stories that non-profits are telling these days, there is one very important story that most fundraisers are not telling. That’s their personal story.

In the spectrum of stories that we can tell to donors, one that we don’t often share is our personal story. Instead, we (the fundraisers) remove ourselves from the equation and become the messenger for our organization’s stories. Sure – this is an effective technique. But at the end of the day, you are a person and it is important that you personally have a connection with the donor. It’s not just about your organization’s connection to the donor.

So – how can you add in this personal element to your donor relations? Start sharing your personal story.

In my own experience as a fundraiser, I can tell you with absolute certainty, your personal story matters. You have stories and perspectives that are worthy of being shared.

A number of years ago, I worked at Union Gospel Mission in Vancouver. For the first few months that I worked as a Development Officer there, I worried that I didn’t have the right to talk about our clients and their experiences. Our clients lived in extreme poverty, suffered with intense addictions, and some where homeless. I had never personally experienced any of these things, and so I felt inauthentic talking about people who had when I was on donor meetings.

But one day, I was walking through the neighborhood on the way back to my office and I had a woman on the street stop me. She was very underweight and looked like she hadn’t slept in a while. As I cross the street, she asked if I had any money to spare. I told her no, I didn’t. But as I turned to walk towards my office, she grabbed my arm and she said, "Please, I will do anything for money."

As she said those words, I felt my heart break in pieces. For me, this was the moment when I realized why I was fundraising for Union Gospel Mission. I was raising money to help give that woman (and others like her) a better life.

From that moment onward, I felt like I had a personal story to share with donors about why Union Gospel Mission’s mission mattered to me. It was one I shared often with donors and it helped donor understand me as a fundraiser a little better.

Putting together your personal story is a self-reflective process. Here are 3 questions to consider as you think through personal story to share with donors.

  • Question 1 – What made you want to work for the organization?

  • Question 2 – What values and beliefs do you have that align with your organization’s work?

  • Question 3 – Has there been a particular moment in your work that made you believe in the mission even more strongly?

In the comments below, share your answer to one of these questions. Marc and I would love to hear your story!

Please do share your thoughts in the comments. And be sure to join us as Vanessa takes us into a deep dive in this process in October's webinar for The Nonprofit Academy.
About Marc A. Pitman

Marc A. Pitman is the CEO of The Concord Leadership Group, the author of Ask Without Fear! and director of The Nonprofit Academy. A coach to leaders around the world, Marc's expertise and enthusiasm engages audiences and has caught the attention of media organizations as diverse as Al Jazeera and Fox News. Marc’s experience also includes pastoring a Vineyard church, managing a gubernatorial campaign, and teaching internet marketing and fundraising at colleges and universities. He is the husband to his best friend and the father of three amazing kids. And if you drive by him on the road, he’ll be singing 80’s tunes loud enough to embarrass his family! You can connect with him on Google+, on Twitter @marcapitman, and like "Ask Without Fear!" on Facebook.
To get his free ebook on 21 ways to get board members engaged with fundraising, go to https://fundraisingcoach.com/21-ways/


  1. great post! Thank you!!

  2. Thank you for inspiring posting and just in a right time. Our season of speaking tour in Sweden starts today, and continues until December. I am sorry about my English, but I try to comment.

    I am Mirjam, founder together with my husband a charity who helps children in Ukraine. My background is in radio and in Ballet. That was few pounds ago...

    The storytelling - Yes we have a strong story how God called us to Ukraine, how I got healed from MS. Turning point in Ukraine was when we saw wild dogs take care of street children.
    The story goes on ... and today three of the former street children are today leading the work among the poor families. Then we have all the touching stories of the families and children, illustrated in radio theater format and slides. The mainpoint is - How the help can rescue the child from an institute. And of course, we have the powerful stories of the supporters. Without their faithfulness, where would these children be and how these projects has changed their lifes?

    I am sure I'm not alone with my questions. The story from Ukraine is a powerful story, but I have difficult to choose THE STORY. Now I have many strong stories, powerful slides, powerful soundscapes to illustrate. This was just a thought, maybe you have som insight or ideas?

    PS. Our speaking tour in Sweden starts today.

  3. Excellent point! We do feel sometimes that we need to take ourselves out of it - it isn't about us - yet our story and connection adds validity, trust and emotional goodwill.

  4. I become more determined to keep trying to make a caring community when a person has a mental illness when a family member says "Thank goodness I finally found your organization. Everyone has made such a difference for us."

What would you add?