A Love Story | Sharpe Group
Posted March 10th, 2023

A Love Story

By Ashley McHugh


“Every great love starts with a great story … ” ― Nicholas Sparks, “The Notebook”


If you haven’t read “The Notebook,” you may have seen the movie. I’ll confess I’ve done both … more than a few times. It’s a compelling story told in an engaging way.

Good storytelling can transport us, influence us, inspire us and motivate us. So, it’s not surprising that storytelling can play a significant role in fundraising. To borrow from Nicholas Sparks, I would maintain that every great gift starts with a great story. If you’re not featuring donor stories (either in written or video format) in your marketing, you are missing a significant opportunity to inspire and motivate others to make impactful gifts.

When I am writing a donor story or developing a video script, I start with a very simple (some may say
overly simple) outline that will provide context to critical components of the story. Framing the outline in this manner provides structure to my interviews. Drawing content from these three “basics” allows me to guide the donor to share “why” they made their gift. Once I learn the “why,” I’ve got what I need to craft the story.

1. In the beginning …
This is also known as the “Who are you and where did you come from question.” As part of my research, I always have biographical information available as a starting point, which helps me guide the donor into sharing more about themselves. I always ask about parents, siblings, family, etc., as this brings the donor to life. Education, career and hobbies can add color to the story. My favorite question is “What is a quote or motto you live your life by?” The donor is the main character in the story, so it’s important to capture their voice and make them relatable.

2. “Meat” me in the middle
Every good story needs substance—what I call the meaty parts. To find them, I try to uncover the donor’s motivation behind making the gift. Was there an event in their life that prompted the decision? I prefer to use general terms when describing what they’ve done, such as “a gift in their estate plan” or “a gift in their retirement plan.” Have they made other gifts like this? Who and/or what influences their philanthropy? One of the primary goals of storytelling is to inspire and motivate others to follow suit. Having answers to these questions provides composition to a story.

3. The End
This is where I ask about the donor’s hope for the future for the charity. Though some relate it to the gift itself, most donors use this opportunity to share more about why they lend their support. Some would say this is a “feelings” question. I would call it a “love” question. Their answer—or answers—is what will take their story from good to great in a heartbeat. As I’ve seen (and heard) for many years, donors don’t make legacy gifts for the tax advantages.

Whether in a written format or (even better) video, storytelling should be used in a variety of ways in your
marketing and stewardship. We’ve seen time and time again at Sharpe what impact these stories can have on fundraising success.

Sharpe Group’s creative services can interview your donors and create compelling written and video stories. ■

Ashley McHugh, based in Greenville, South Carolina, is the content director for Sharpe Group. She oversees the creation and review of all print and digital content for Sharpe Group clients and is actively involved in developing company marketing and communications materials as a writer and editor.

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