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November 17, 2015

Donor Motivation What's in a Story

Donor Motivation: What's in a Story?


As the University of British Columbia wraps up the most ambitious alumni engagement and fundraising campaign in Canadian history, the team at UBC has set out to express gratitude and create meaningful Return on Philanthropic Investments to their donors. Barbara Miles, Vice President of Development and Alumni Engagement at the University of British Columbia, shares an important part of their strategy: Leveraging the art of listening to donor stories, and sharing them to show impact.


Even if donors have never heard of the organization before, they can still become engaged in a meaningful way. Connecting life experiences and values to organizational initiatives is imperative for unleashing transformational philanthropy.


Creating Meaningful Return on Philanthropic Investments—

Meaningful gifts arise when a donor’s life story and an organization’s priorities align.

“In fundraising, it’s not about us. We want to understand the motivations of our donors, and we have a bent for it,” Miles explains. “Every single person has a variety of reasons for giving. It’s our job; it’s our joy to uncover those stories. When people share their stories, and we approach our stewardship as an extension, it creates a powerful connection to the university.”

“Through a series of conversations, you learn a person’s aspirations, and you can determine if it’s a match with the organization,” Miles explains. “Seeing donors start to realize how meaningful a contribution can be to the institution, or to others, is only half as profound as seeing how much it means to the donor.”

“Many development people are natural born communicators,” Miles says. “We encourage people to tell their stories in our business. We also tell their stories in any way we can.”


Many nonprofits have learned that it’s much more effective to show than tell. “When someone shares a story from the heart, that’s more meaningful than numbers or statistics or graphs,” Miles says. Students sharing their life experiences, donors explaining how their giving connects to their personal life experiences—these are fantastic ways to build a connection with donors and a step toward showing a meaningful Return on Philanthropic Investment.


“What’s most meaningful is showing the impact of what’s going to happen or what has happened as a result of the gift. Stories are what draw us into people’s lives and what motivate us.”





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