Telling (and Listening) Your Better Story

February 14, 2018

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Written By: Bruce

By Bruce Berglund


When people think of fundraising, they usually are thinking about The Ask – and that can be very intimidating. This month, the Donor By Design Team is taking on How to Ask. Today, Bruce delves into a better way to approach the ask.


Fundraising. Asking for money. These words drive many volunteers and staff alike into a state of mild panic. When I have the opportunity to train on this topic of effective asking, very few people raise their hand when I ask how many people like to be fundraisers or ask for money. Most of us don’t like to initiate that awkward money conversation.

Me neither.

For years I’ve been saying the simple formula for fundraising is “where interest and capacity cross, there’s your gift.” This requires a fundamental shift in our thinking: we are interest raisers not fundraisers.

After we talk about interest raising versus fundraising, almost everyone raises their hand when I ask “how many of you can be an interest-raiser through telling a better story?”

It’s a basic skill of being an interest raiser: telling your better story. A great way to do that is something we call “putting a face to the case.” Data is important. But if overused, numbers can be numbing. This simple outline might help you tell your better story:

  • Who was the person? (maybe it was you!)
  • What was the situation?
  • What did your organization or group do to help?
  • How has the situation improved?
  • How does this story represent the greater impact of what you do?

Telling your better story is only part of the solution however. From there you need to make an important pivot. Your next step is to ask for their story.

Everyone has an amazing story to tell and share. People love to talk about themselves (yes, even you). They love to tell you why they’re interested in what you do, or why they’ve been involved in the past – especially if they are passionate about your cause. Laced in their stories you will find common ground. You will learn what aspects of your case most resonate with them. You will learn what they don’t know about your organization or mission.

With this foundation, you can have a meaningful conversation, not just small talk as a prelude to asking for a gift. Ask for their thoughts. Ask for their advice. Listen to their concerns and excitement. Share your ideas and the issues that break your heart, and ask what breaks their heart. With that thoughtful foundation, you’ll be able to gauge this potential donor’s interest (at least at this moment) and determine if 1. This is the right time to ask and 2. If so, where their interest in your campaign is crossing with their capacity to give.

Learning to tell – and listen for – a better story transforms the whole “asking” dynamic into a collaboration that makes both the donor and the asker feel great about the experience.

Have you ever had the opportunity to have a conversation like this with a donor? If so, tell us about it in the comments below.

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2 responses to “Telling (and Listening) Your Better Story”

  1. John Alexander says:

    Excellent, Bruce…the interest-raising is a fine way to help overcome the “ask” reluctance.

  2. Bruce Bruce Berglund says:

    John-

    Thanks! So much easier to raise interest.