In Your Donor’s Voice, Part 2 | Sharpe Group
Posted January 1st, 2010

In Your Donor’s Voice, Part 2

In last month’s Give & Take, Part 1 of this article discussed the many advantages of utilizing donor testimonials in communications initiatives related to bequests and other gift planning opportunities. 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 lessen the motivation of donors of more modest means. Donors who are more representative of the typical constituent may, on the other hand, encourage 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 matter you wish to feature. For example, a communication package 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. An interview with an actual donor can serve to better explain a gift annuity’s real-life benefits.

Also, be careful to choose donors over time with whom different segments of your constituency will identify. Try to feature donors who are married, single, or 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 it is important to explain to donors the technical aspects of various types of gifts, the donor testimonial should not be primarily used for this purpose. In our experience, donor testimonials work best when they focus on the motivation behind the gifts rather than the intricate details of how a particular plan works. 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 of the charitable entities you could support, 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 by doing something similar to what they did.” One way to underscore the importance of selecting the appropriate gift plan is for the donors to explain why they had not made a gift before and how the gift plan they chose helped them accomplish their objective by allowing them to retain income, provide for a loved one’s needs, and so on.

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. A donor testimonial brings readers out of the financial details of giving and back to the human dimension of the gift—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 how—and why—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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