In Your Donor's Voice - Part 2 | Sharpe Group
Posted December 1st, 1999

In Your Donor’s Voice – Part 2

In last month’s Give & Take, Part I of this article discussed the many advantages of utilizing donor testimonials in your gift planning marketing initiatives. This month, we offer some tips for creating testimonials that effectively tell the stories of particular donors and their gifts.

Choosing the donor

One of the most important aspects of creating a donor testimonial is determining the “right” donor to highlight. Some might suppose that the donors who make the largest gifts should be interviewed. But high-dollar donors do not necessarily have the most interesting stories to tell about their gifts and may actually serve to lessen the motivation of donors of more modest means. Donors who are more representative of the typical constituent may, on the other hand, motivate persons like them while still inspiring those capable of making more substantial contributions.

The first step in narrowing your search for an appropriate donor to interview is to determine the subject of the mailing in which the story will be included. For example, a mailing promoting the benefits of gift annuities would be best complemented by a donor testimonial from someone who has established a gift annuity with your organization or institution. A donor interview can serve to better explain a gift annuity’s real-life benefits.

Also be careful to choose diverse donors for testimonials. Try to feature donors who are married, single, childless and alternate where possible between men and women, keeping in mind what you know about the makeup of your constituency. The goal is to have as many people as possible identify with donors featured in interviews over time.

Focus on the why of the gift

While there is a need to tell donors about the technical aspects of specific gifts, the donor testimonial is not primarily designed for this task. In our experience, donor testimonials work best when they focus on the motivation behind the gifts rather than the intricate details of gift plans. The what, when, and how of the gift can be handled in other sections of your communication piece. Your interview should thus focus on who the donors are and why they made their gifts. Some questions include:

  • What motivated you to make your gift?
  • How did you first become involved with this organization?
  • Have you or family members been personally served by the institution? (If applicable)
  • With all the places to give your money, why did you choose this one?
  • What do you hope to accomplish through your gifts?

When they can relate the motivation behind their gifts, other donors reading the story may think, “This person feels the same way about XYZ charity that I do. Maybe I can make a difference through giving, too.”

Putting a face with a name

If space allows, use photographs of the donors featured in testimonials. It does not need to be a professional photograph—just a head and shoulders shot of the donor or donors with a simple background. Be sure to check with your production sources to make sure the photo will reproduce well.


With the growing amount of gift planning information reaching your donors, they may well feel overwhelmed. The donor story can be your best tool to bring the process back home for the donor. The donor testimonial brings readers out of the financial details of giving and back to the heart of the matter—one person’s desire to give to make great things happen. There is no substitute for informing donors about how plans work and what they can do for them, but increasingly it will be important to show readers that people actually complete such gifts for the benefit of your cause.

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The publisher of Sharpe Insights is not engaged in rendering legal or tax advisory service. For advice and assistance in specific cases, the services of your own counsel should be obtained. Articles in Sharpe Insights may generally be reprinted for distribution to board members and staff of nonprofit institutions and other non-donor groups. Proper credit must be given. Call for details.

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