There are a lot of uses for stories in philanthropy programs. We can use stories as a part of fundraising asks. We can use stories in donor communications, as well as donor stewardship.

Using stories in donor stewardship is great for a number of reasons. As we know from the work of Penelope Burk, donors want to know how their gift was used and what impact that gift had.  But not all stories used in donor stewardship are equal.

Today, I want to talk about the 4 qualities every stewardship story must have.


As I mentioned above, when a donor makes a gift they want to know what impact that gift made. A story is a very tangible way to connect them to their impact by showing them exactly what that gift made possible. It is important to keep this in mind because there are a plethora of stories that you could tell donors. Instead, hone in on the stories that best highlight impact.

Stories about donor impact will be related to your mission statement. By that, I mean that the story will show how your organization is making strides towards realizing that mission statement. If you are a social service organization, your story will be about the people you help. If you are an animal service organization, your story will be about the animals you help. If you are a university, your story will be about a student. Those are just a few examples of what to look for in a mission-focused impact story.


Your donors made a gift because you told them there was a need. They rose to the occasion and said that they wanted to help your organization meet that need with a solution. In a story, a conflict is what communicates the urgency and importance of a need. So when reporting back to donors in stewardship materials, it is important to re-iterate the need that donors’ helped meet.

When you launch into telling your impact story, make sure that you spend some time talking about the character’s conflict. What problem did they face? Why were they not able to solve it on their own? By answering these questions, you will remind donors about the importance of their gift.


Since your donors made a gift to a need that you told them about, it is important that you tell a story that has a solution. This will indicate that the need has been met and therefore, the donors have made a positive impact.

I will add a caveat here to say that the specific story you share will have a resolution (a happy ending, if you will), but that does not mean that your organization’s mission is complete. You can indicate that there is still more work to do, but that you have made progress and have helped at least this one person.


This is where most stewardship stories go wrong. While your organization may have carried out the work, it is not the hero of the story. In a donor-centered world, your donor is the hero of the story. They are the ones that made the work possible, and part of great donor stewardship is making sure that donors know they are our heroes.

End your story with a message of gratitude for their support and a reminder that they are the ones who make stories like this possible.

There are many great places that you can tell stories in donor stewardship such as social media and thank you letters. I encourage you to test different stories in donor stewardship to see how they may influence donors’ giving rates.

This post was originally published on The Storytelling Non-Profit’s blog and can be found here.