Tell Me Your Story

June 19, 2017



Written By: Bruce

By Bruce Berglund

This summer, the Donor By Design Team is considering new ways grow the relationship with our donors… moving beyond the thank you note to a deeper connection. Today’s topic: how do you learn your supporters’ stories? 


I have the privilege of speaking to lots of groups about the art of asking for money. I work hard to connect to each group and bring my best energy to the room.

As part of my trainings, I like to interview a donor or board member. My favorite question to ask is “Tell me your story from birth to today in 5 minutes.” This question is wonderful and even who know these donors well always learn something. I then like to ask about the other causes they support and why.

After the short interview is done, I ask the room if they know more about the interviewee than they knew 15 minutes earlier. They always readily agree. I then say it’s too bad a guy from Chicago had to fly in to help them get closer to the group. This always engenders a bit of nervous laughter.

Relationships matter. But they don’t happen by accident.

So here’s your summer challenge: take time to visit with your board and another ten of your top donors or donor prospects. Bring them a mid-year update and then ask to hear their story. I promise you will learn something new, and you will have a deeper understanding of the impact they want to have in the world.

Remember people love to talk about themselves. So celebrate their story! Plus, remember the adage: ask for money and get advice…ask for advice and get money!

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6 responses to “Tell Me Your Story”

  1. Norris Lineweaver says:

    The opportunity in a private moment with a high end wealth donor to ask about their story is precious and I have had the privilege to hear remarkable stories how the YMCA is connected in a very meaningful and personal way. Inviting story is very powerful. Great advice.

  2. Personal contact and learning your donor’s or prospective donor’s story is so important in laying the groundwork for a meaningful and lasting philanthropic relationship with the YMCA. Donor’s give from the heart.

  3. Monica Elenbaas says:

    I found that donors (as well as non-donors) were extremely receptive to being interviewed when our YMCA prepared for anniversaries or other significant events (the re-dedication of our Downtown Seattle flagship, for example). Many generous individuals are reluctant to talk about themselves, but very happy to talk about a beloved camp or to recall the stories told by their father or uncle during the original construction of a YMCA. In one notable case we had learned incidentally that a community leader had attended Camp Orkila — but he had previously declined past requests to donate from his good friend who was on our Board of Directors. This gentleman gave not only the half-hour that I asked for, but another half hour and hours of his assistant’s time to share other contacts. Later, he agreed to be a generous sponsor of the Orkila Centennial Celebration and asked others to do the same.