Five Ways to Reframe Your Donor Stories

A screenshot from a website for the Donor Relations Guru Group for a blog post headlined "How I learned to stop worrying and love development content." Below the headline is a picture of a stack of magazines. The top magazine is opened with the cover and several pages tucked underneath, exposing an article page.

Full disclosure: In my previous life as a university alumni magazine editor, I hated development content. Survey after survey told me that readers skipped those articles entirely. It pained me to give 2-4 pages—in some cases, 10 percent of the entire book—to content I knew people wouldn’t read. There were so many other stories more deserving of attention, I thought.

In the decade-plus that’s passed since then, I’ve worked mostly on the other side, as an advancement communicator. My experiences at CASE, The Washington Center, and Johns Hopkins taught me that fundraisers and development researchers are valuable but frequently untapped sources of great stories about an institution’s impact. But because development content traditionally reads as cookie-cutter puff pieces or press releases for donors, many central communicators turn their noses up and look in other directions. And they’re missing out.

There is a way to balance the interests here—to celebrate donors’ contributions through compelling stories about the people, places, and ideas those contributions will support. It just requires a slight shift of the frame in which those stories are told. Start with these five ideas I shared with Donor Relations Guru last summer.

  • Give a nod to philanthropy in the stories you’re already telling.
  • Use Q&A-style articles to highlight people in your organization doing work related to an in-the-news topic and have received philanthropic support.
  • Shift the focus from the donor to the issue they care about.
  • Use graphics that show, rather than tell, the impact of a gift.
  • Take advantage of donors who are also alumni or former members of your organization.

1 Comment »

  1. So Linda was asking me what you did last night and of course I drew a blank!! So your 2nd paragraph was timely!! Alumni Advancement. I told her what you did, but didn’t have the title.

    So thanks Love <p,

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