The Power of Beneficiary Storytelling: Tapping Into Elemental Human Emotions

As a donor, I love to actually “hear” the voice of those I support. I love to hear their narratives; I love encountering the sweeping drama of their movement from struggle to stability. And that’s not just because I want to know my pound has accomplished something. It’s because it touches elemental human emotions. I know that I can’t speak for every donor but I know I can speak for many.

We actually love stories for two reasons: (1) they SHOW us what our money has accomplished and (2) they make us feel less alone in our struggles with common human emotions: insecurity, anxiety, fear, depression – and on the flip side – stability, courage, and joy.

I was having a conversation with a friend of mine recently who is organising an event fundraiser for Womankind Worldwide. We met because I volunteered to do an opening talk about Womankind’s work in Afghanistan. And a couple of interesting bits came out of our conversation

As I told her the story of a Womankind beneficiary named Farida, she exuded energy about the event as a whole. She interrupted with questions and input. She smiled. Hearing the story of this young girl’s triumph over the bullying and intimidation of an unscrupulous suitor seemed to infuse my friend with excitement for the cause.

Perhaps, then, our stories carry within them a very precious gift for donors – emotional refueling. Perhaps they are one way to help prevent donor fatigue.

For more on the power of narrative, I suggest perusing Women for Women International’s December 2007 issue of Critical Half.  It focuses, of course, on gender equality in conflict areas but one article in particular is an excellent example of the power of beneficiary storytelling…..

If you need examples of the kinds of testimonials you should get from beneficiaries, here’s one. It pays to craft specific questions, to conduct interviews and to take the time generally to elicit such powerful stories.

In this article, Honorata tells the harrowing story of living peaceably in a Congo village one day to the next becoming a sex-slave to marauding soldiers for 14 months. Here’s an excerpt of an incredibly powerful testimonial.


In the ‘down time’ between busy seasons, why not use the Story Portfolio Tool ?

How can you increase donor engagement through storytelling? A beneficiary feature in your newsletter? Or perhaps a thank you letter to donors from the perspective of a beneficiary?


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