One report from the Women’s Philanthropy Institute found that “When women give, they tend to express a desire to help others, whereas men tend to focus on the benefits that come from being charitable.” Women’s giving is driven by empathy, the ability to understand and share another person’s feelings. When we see others in need, empathy allows us to imagine ourselves in their shoes, experiencing their hardships and emotions. This experience creates personal investment in a cause and the desire to be meaningfully involved in creating change, rather than making a transactional gift.

All donors need logical information about an organization to make giving decisions. Women need to hear facts and statistics in order to trust that their gift is in good hands. However, language that allows women to feel and envision connections is more compelling than “just the facts, ma’am.” Adding communication that evokes empathy will deepen your conversations with women, leading to stronger relationships and an increased likelihood of giving. 

Tell Your Story

There are many ways to adapt an organization’s communication style to better connect with women’s empathy-driven giving (which I explore in full in my book, Gender Matters: A Guide to Growing Women’s Philanthropy, available now. Tapping into your own story is one powerful – and often overlooked – strategy. Sometimes fundraisers can feel removed from the mission. It can be hard for us to be in the field or in a classroom as we frenetically juggle all the demands of our profession. Others may feel that the organization doesn’t easily show impact; its mission is research or providing umbrella support and training for its member nonprofits working on the ground. That is why we may “report” on the facts of the mission, rather than share our own experiences about the mission. By doing so, we miss out on an opportunity to deepen personal connections.

Six Storytelling Tips From an Expert

That said, it’s difficult to tell a story of impact that was not experienced first-hand! I spoke with Maggie Steig, a leadership coach, actor and storyteller, for guidance. She trained me and my husband on telling compelling stories. Here are a few of her helpful tips:

  • When you are telling a story, you are the one connecting to the audience. It is through you that they can connect to the mission, so they first need to feel a connection to you. You need to be willing and open to your own feelings and emotions about the mission and its impact.
  • Get as many personal touch points with the impact as possible. Look at photos, read letters from beneficiaries and listen to their stories, interview the program people and feel what they are describing. This is about you feeling the mission, not just listing all the accomplishments.
  • Use present tense and bring the donor into the experience. Maggie used this example:

“I’m sitting at my desk five months after the project started. It is a gray day and I’m feeling heavy with all the to-dos for the day. The phone rings from the project leader in the field, and she begins to share an extraordinary story of a family in that town that just … I couldn’t wait to tell you the story.”

  • Keep it short. People can get lost if you go on for an extended period or attempt to recite a written piece you’ve memorized.
  • Like Mark Twain said, “It takes three weeks of rehearsal to be spontaneous.” While you may not need weeks of rehearsal, you also don’t want to tell a story without practicing it. Tell it to a few people and get feedback.
  • Finally, be yourself. It is OK not to be polished. As the storyteller, you want to build a connection that moves people and you do that with your authentic enthusiasm for the mission. While we can use technology to tell a story (photos, videos), there is nothing more powerful than a storyteller showing his or her heart to the donor.
Tap Into Your Own Connection

By tapping into your own connection to the mission you open the door for the woman donor sitting in front of you to do the same. Her ability to feel your emotions will deepen her personal understanding of the organization’s impact and importance. An important note: powerful storytelling is not only critical for women. It will also help with other donors in your portfolio. You have many emotionally connecting stories you can tell about the impact of your organization, and I encourage you to learn how to tell them. As one speaker implored fundraisers at a panel on media and storytelling during the 2017 Women’s Philanthropy Institute Symposium, “Be the strongest, clearest, most passionate voice you can be.” Tell your story.

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