After more than a quarter century as a fundraiser and a professor focused on fundraising research, theories, data, and experiments, Dr. Russell James has determined the core role the successful fundraiser must play (or the fundraising operation must perform) is related to advancing the donor’s hero story.

What is a story?
Simply put, a story consists of character and plot (Without these components, there cannot be a story.)

What is a fundraising story?
In a fundraising story, the goal is to elicit social emotions. Neuroimaging studies proved this to be true.They found that the activation of the brain region used for valuing social-emotional outcomes predicted charitable giving.

Research also found that the activation of this brain region depends on input from two other brain regions: One that helps supporters shift their attention to focus on another’s perspective. Another that plays a role is empathy.

Both are needed to activate social emotions.

Effective stories involve relatable characters — ones we like and with whom we empathize. Ones we identify with because we can understand their perspective.

This is especially true in a fundraising story. If a supporter doesn’t identify with the character, they won’t accept the story. Then, they won’t donate.

Having said that, the best fundraising stories focus on just one character.

And the singular character a supporter can identify with most is themselves. After all, taking one’s own perspective and empathizing with oneself is easy.

Therefore, a story that involves a supporter’s life is a compelling story indeed!However, supporters can also identify with others who are like them or who share similar experiences. As a result, any story can become about the supporter as long as they identify with the character.

Now, let’s consider a bad story. At least, in the supporter’s eyes.
A bad story is the charity’s story. Fundraisers might find this story interesting since they know their charity’s characters well. But since a donor can hardly ever identify with those characters, the charity’s story won’t support the advancement of the donor’s story.

That’s where fundraisers come into the picture.
Fundraisers can help a supporter activate identification by guiding them toward thinking about how their life intersects with the cause. They can help the donor tell THEIR story.

This activates the parts of the supporter’s brain that drive empathy and perspective. That activates social emotions which lead to charitable giving.

Your role is to help the donor tell their story.
Let’s face it, all of us are a little narcissistic. The most interesting story for me is my story. The most interesting story for you is your story. The most interesting story for charity insiders is their charity’s story.

Too many times, fundraisers focus on their organization’s story when talking to donors. That’s great for the fundraiser. But as a donor, that gets a little boring. Or even worse, it makes donors think you’re a braggart and you don’t care about them. You only care about their money.

That’s why, as fundraisers, we should be helping donors tell their stories and we should help them do so in ways that make it possible for them to be the heroes in those stories. After all, who doesn’t want to be a hero?

The most interesting story for the donor is their donor story. Help them be the hero of that story and you’ll increase the donor’s involvement and charitable giving.

That’s the one big thing!: Advance the donor’s hero story.

That’s what helps donors move themselves forward in the consideration process when it comes to major gifts.

Always focus on that and you’ll raise more money. I promise!


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