How to Write Donor Stories That Make Prospects Take Action

A story without a purpose is like a boat without an oar.

In both cases, you’re trying to get to somewhere but sadly, you’ll end up adrift with no direction.

So let’s stop going in circles with our donor stories. Let’s tell them with purpose and direction.

What does storytelling have to do with planned giving anyway?

We humans are hardwired to tell and share stories. We innately need them because they create connection, instill sense of pride and community and foster legacies, among other inspiring reasons. All of these factors bond us to one another; they are, in fact, the essence of why many people choose to make a planned gift.

Not sure storytelling lives up to the hype?

Consider a 2007 Carnegie Mellon study that asked people what compels them to give to an organization—stats and data, just stories or a combination of both stats and stories. In the study, each person received $5 and a solicitation from Save the Children. Interestingly, people gave the most to the story-only solicitation, with an average gift of $2.38. Both data and story yielded an average gift of $1.43 gift. Stats only, $1.13.

How does storytelling influence planned gift prospects?

Donor stories add a human touch to planned giving efforts and serve as a translator of sorts, making the more technical aspects of a planned gift easier to understand. Similarly, donor stories can explain the different types of planned gifts (e.g., bequests, CGAs, endowed scholarships or trusts) and how they can best benefit donors’ individual living situations and financial aspirations. Storytelling educates prospects and donors in ways they can understand and bond with.

“The most impactful planned giving stories have purpose, create connection and move people to action.”

Think of yourself as part storyteller, but mostly influencer. The goal is to influence people positively—to move them to give of their own accord, not because, in so many words, we told them they had to or pressured them prematurely.

These five Stelter elements of storytelling enable you to craft—and tell—powerful planned giving stories.

1. Work from the end. First, determine your outcome. Do you want prospects to contact you to learn more about bequests? Write a call to action that says that and provides your contact information:

“Like the Feldmans you can create a forever gift that makes an impact on future generations. Contact [insert your name, contact info] to learn more.”

Do you want to increase your legacy society by 10 new members this year? One tactic may be to write a donor article that can be adapted to share over social media and in all versions of your newsletters (print and email). Issue this goal as a friendly challenge and include donor stories about others who have already joined the legacy society.

Imagine this Facebook post with a donor-story link:

“Our goal this year is to bring 10 new members into our Legacy Society. Meet Jan and Michael Feldman, current Legacy Society members, who are delighted to share why they established a planned gift to save the Amur Leopard from extinction. They hope you will join them in this fight to save our Amur Leopards by becoming a Legacy Society member too.”

2. Affect emotion. Donor stories are like a conversation between writer and reader. Build an emotional connection with details about donors that make donors relatable and endearing. Author Walter Dean tells us, “A good story offers detail the reader can use to make his or her own judgments and, perhaps, forge an emotional connection with a character.”

3. Align heart & head. A strong narrative stirs the heart, but a strong case for support satisfies our rationale. Align both heart and head, so donors feel confident in their gift decision. Educate your audience about the benefits of a planned gift, like tax implications or how a gift can pay them or their spouses income, or benefit heirs, for example.

4. Compel to action. By focusing on what prospects’ needs are, you can speak to a planned gift that best meets their needs. Use the efficacy of your organization for credibility, but the main reason people give is because of THEIR reasons. Focus on how a planned gift can meet those reasons; share that story and how the gift will positively impact their life.

5. Tell them exactly what you want them to do. This closes the circle of our five steps. After moving prospects to action tell them specifically what their next steps will be.

Whether that’s a “contact me” or “start the process today” or “go to our planned giving page,” when you’ve moved a planned giving prospect from thinking to action, the time to act is now. It’s the last chapter in the story, but a new, exciting sequel is just beginning.

Are you more of a visual learner? We completely understand. That’s why we created this infographic on the path to a great story.

How did you convert a prospect to a planned gift through storytelling? Share your story in the comments below. (Remember step #5, above? That’s what’s happening here.)

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