Testimonials That Work: How to Get Them and How to Write Them

Did you know that your job comes with built-in spokespeople?

It’s true! And get this: They work for free and won’t ask for benefits, plus they offer plenty of perks in return. (Huzzah!)

Testimonials can be one of your organization’s best ambassadors.

They can come from a donor, volunteer, staffer, community partner, or program or service recipient. Today, we’ll talk primarily about donor testimonials.

Why Are Testimonials So Great, Anyway?

People love reading other people’s stories. All of us do. It’s the idea of escaping into someone else’s life and believing you could be this person too. It makes you think, stirs possibility.

Testimonials also lend credibility to your efforts to move prospects through the donor journey, because they replace the organization telling others how great it is and let people share the good news instead.

Stats back the power of testimonials. Author Simon Grant revealed that nine out of 10 people trust what a customer (or donor) says about an organization more than what that organization says about itself.

It’s social proof, people. We care what others think.

Considered the “godfather of influence,” Robert Cialdini introduced “social proof” in his 1984 book, Influence. Essentially, social proof happens when people in uncertain situations look to others to copy so they appear to blend in with the crowd.  

Social proof helps motivate others to consider—and create—a planned gift. 

Planned giving expert Dr. Russell James tells us that interest in leaving a gift increases by 15% when donors believe they’re “one of many supporters” doing the same.

What Makes a Good Testimonial?

Write a testimonial that will captivate your audience with these 5 tips.

1. Paint a picture with details.

Each donor and each gift is wonderfully unique. Lean into what makes their story special. Search for the details to draw readers into the story.

Some questions to ask to elicit the good stuff about donors’ giving stories:

  • Tell me about you! How did you first hear about our organization?
  • When did you decide to make a planned gift and why?
  • What do you think would happen if our organization wasn’t around?
  • What would you tell someone who thinks they don’t have, make or own enough to create a gift?
  • What’s one thing that’s made you especially happy about creating your gift?

2. Create a story with soul.

Testimonials that draw readers into the story are conversational and easy to read. They capture the raw emotions, struggles and objections too.

3. Keep it positive.

Among other benefits, good-news stories create greater engagement with people and encourage others to share their own positive experiences and stories. Avoid including negative comments in testimonials, like disparaging comments about other organizations.

4. Draw their eyes into the story.  

The heart will follow.

Engaging headlines use strong action verbs that create urgency and emotion. Photos of happy, relaxed donors, in their natural element or engaging in some way with your organization, pull the reader into the story even more. Short cutlines under photos add further interest.

5. Tell them the next step.  

End your testimonial with helpful, approachable language, like “We’re here to help,” with your contact information or a link to your organization’s planned giving page. This quietly encourages donors to take the next step on their gift-giving journey.

Looking for help to write calls to action that readers will follow? You’ve come to the right place, er, blog.

Bonus tips from a pro. Russell James says persuasive testimonials:

  • tell the story of living donors
  • focus on how their donations fit in with their life stories
  • communicate using simple, conversational, family-oriented words

How Do I Get Testimonials?

By reaching out to donors and asking for their stories, you gain another touchpoint in building relationships and deepen the ones you already have. It’s a win for everyone!

Here are 5 tips to find supporters who want to share their story.

1. Give supporters an easy way to share their stories on your website and social media channels.

Create a “Share Your Story” page on your planned giving website and feature a link to it from the homepage. It can be as simple as the example below.

We’d love to hear what [org name] has meant to you in your life and how you came to the decision to make a planned gift.

Social media: Post a couple of sentences or an especially impactful quote from a donor’s testimonial to draw people in. Then end with a call-to-action asking supporters for their stories, and provide a visible, one-click “Share Your Story” link to where they can leave their testimonials.

2. Integrate the ask into surveys.

Surveys are ready-made tools for testimonials. Top off the close-ended portion of the survey with a block at the bottom to leave an open-ended testimonial.

3. Send an email.

Here’s a starter example of reaching out to a donor for a testimonial in an email:

“Hi John!

Listening to your story last week at lunch about your planned gift to [org name] has been on my mind.  

If you’re comfortable, I’d love to chronicle your story of support in a testimonial to be able to share it with others. If you’re interested, I’d need just 15-20 minutes to chat with you about your story. If it’s more convenient, I can send you questions in an email. Your testimonial would be a wonderful addition to our next newsletter—definitely an inspiring and heartfelt one at that.

General tips for a successful ask include:

  • Keep your tone conversational
  • Be specific about what’s involved in gathering information and how you’ll use their testimonial

4. Enlist the team.

Your colleagues, especially those “in the field,” see and hear stories of impact all the time. Co-workers could direct you to existing supporters willing to share their story and provide guidance on the best way to approach them. They may even facilitate the introduction.

5. But don’t wait.

Ask for a donor’s testimonial right after they have made a gift, while their “feel-good” emotions are still running high. If you weren’t part of their giving journey, talk to those involved for suggestions on how to best approach the donor.

TIP: If a donor agrees to share their story, get permission from them to share it and provide examples of how you’ll use it.

While most donors will happily share their stories, some prefer to remain anonymous or don’t feel comfortable sharing their story publicly. It’s not personal. Simply respond with a kind thank you for their time and for all they do. Assure them that you are always available if they change their mind.

MAKE A NOTE: If they declined your invitation, be sure to make note of it in a spreadsheet or existing donor database. You certainly don’t want to risk the relationship by accidentally contacting them again.

Need more help to create testimonials that feel and look so compelling people can’t help but read them? We do it every day for our clients. We’d love to tell your stories too. Contact us or start here, with “How to Write Donor Stories That Make Prospects Take Action.”

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