Too often when we are determining our goals, we define the growth we are hoping to generate in advancement programs and then jump into doing the work. We set our metrics and our annual plans. Ready, set, go!

But how often do we take a step back and reflect on what it is fundraisers are doing and how to facilitate the best possible result?

Fundraisers are the liaisons between generous people and the opportunities at organizations. But they are not just passive liaisons. They are active listeners who ask open-ended questions to determine the passions of those with whom they are meeting. They have studied the opportunities at their organizations and are eager to help match the passion to the need.

The best fundraisers listen intently to what they are being told, both in what is said and what goes unsaid. They listen to the details of why someone is interested in the organization in the first place and listen for what investing in a project or program means to them. Gift officers who see themselves as relationship officers can drive success by remembering that the relationship is based on an understanding and trust that comes from listening.

But it doesn’t end with listening. Relationship officers, and fundraisers in general, can benefit from thinking in terms of being a storyteller. Effective storytellers understand their audience. And knowing an audience is more than thinking about segments. Whether it’s one-to-one or one-to-many fundraising, understanding and speaking to the audience is critical.


What kind of stories are best?

Stories of opportunity for the organization, those filled with the human impact that has happened and will continue to take place with the generous investment, make for good storytelling. So do stories where the passion of the individual is incorporated into the story, highlighting the need and helping put a face on the outcome. We all know that people give to people. If you have a facility project, tell the story of what that space will make possible for someone. If you have technology needs, explain how that fits the mission and helps people accomplish something they couldn’t before.

To be a good storyteller, there needs to be passion for what is possible.

Highlight how the investor can see themselves in the story. Explain their potential impact, not the institution’s activities. And as you are telling the story, continue to listen. Don’t just tell the story, stop and ask questions along the way. Listen again to what is said. The story is most effective when it is their story, and you are there to help tell it and bring it to life.

Relationship managers and other advancement staff don’t need to have experience as storytellers.

Advancement programs can empower their staff through training and successful onboarding and by providing content. Donor relations is charged with generating impact reports, often filled with story content. Student recruitment, membership, and other departments at organizations curate stories to use in their work. While the content’s primary purpose was for something else, it can be repurposed effectively in advancement work. Aggregating the content will enable the staff to populate their stories. Training and supporting the staff to effectively use stories will help the team thrive as they develop their storytelling skills.

Want help incorporating storytelling into your advancement program?

BWF is here to support and partner with you. Have questions on storytelling, or maybe want to review your program? Our consultants have diverse backgrounds and experiences that will help you achieve your goals. We’re ready to listen, guide, and partner with you for success. Email us today.