storytelling interviews

Narrowing the emotional distance between your nonprofit and your donor audience can be done very effectively through storytelling. But to tell a good story, you have to get a good story. You have to set up storytelling interviews.

This is most commonly done through undertaking interviewers with a supporter, staff member or benefactor and then sharing their story as the backbone of a social media post, presentation (or increasingly) an email campaign.

But How?

Unless you’re a professional reporter or podcaster the next question is – How? Interviewing can feel intimidating if you’ve never done it before.

Conducting storytelling interviews to tell a great story aren’t always easy, and it takes practice, though there are certain tried and tested methods to help.

This short beginner’s guide includes six top tips to increase your chance of having the storytelling interviews you hoped for.

Tip 1: Choose the Right Candidate 

We all know when we have read or watched an engaging interview and conversely when we’ve viewed an awkward one. Interviewing is hit and miss, but choosing the right candidate goes a long way to putting you on a good footing to begin with.

Go for those you are genuinely interested in. If you’re just running through a tick-list, the audience will feel it. That doesn’t mean only astronauts and movie stars will catch the eye of the reader or viewer. It’s about your compassion and putting aside your ego to want to know an individual’s story.

Your authentic curiosity will be felt by the interviewer too, it’s vital as it develops an environment of trust. We all know when it feels comfortable talking to someone, genuine interest goes a long way to laying the ground work to begin with and also allows uncomfortable subjects to be touched on with respect.

When picking a subject to interview, go for:

  1. Someone who you know is a passionate supporter of your cause or has had first-hand experience of why your nonprofit is important. This could be a beneficiary, staff member, or donor.
  2. Someone who has an internal story structure. I.E. A story arch. The greatest and most relatable stories are those of trial and triumph.

Tip 2: Set An Overarching Goal

Ask yourself this simple but effective question: What do I want to get from the interview? Write the goal down in one or two sentences. This is the subconscious landscape you will keep as the broad direction once you begin talking.

Tip 3: Do Your Homework Before Storytelling Interviews

Approach the interview professionally; do a little homework where you can. Preliminary emails or using your prior knowledge may give you a chance to research and understand the person.

These days most people have some public profile online, it’s worth taking a look. You may learn things you never knew that could give you a greater connection or direction once the interview starts.

Tip 4: Come Prepared With Questions 

After you’ve chosen your subject and they’ve agreed to help, it’s time to lay out a basic structure for the course of the conversation.

  • Who are they?
  • Where are they from?
  • What is their relationship to your nonprofit?
  • How has your nonprofit impacted them?
  • What would they say to others about their experiences within the nonprofit?

Those may seem like quite standard, even boring, questions. However, this is where the professional technique of mirroring comes in.

Tip 5: Mirroring During Storytelling Interviews

Mirroring is a well-practiced and highly effective method of encouraging the interviewee to expand beyond initial responses.

It doesn’t matter how interesting your interviewee is, if they are giving you monosyllabic answers then the whole thing will fall flat.

Mirroring is perhaps your greatest aid when setting out to interview someone. In fact, it’s a technique used by professional interviewers in law enforcement around the world.

In its purest form, mirroring is subtly rewording and repeating the last part of the sentence your subject speaks.


Subject: I had a hard time fitting in at home.
Interviewer: You had a difficult time in your home?

At first glance, it can appear repetitive or obvious, but in the flow of the conversation, this simple method will engage the subject to go on and expand. It’s proving to them you are listening to their words.

Additionally, this method stops the interviewer from taking the conversation down a route which is more about them than the subject. 

How often does someone say: I had a great time in Mexico.
Only for the listener to say: Hey, yeah I had a great time there too, we had this hotel near…

At that point the conversation is about the interviewer, which is not the point.

Tip 6: Maintain Breathing Space

Breathing space is a technique which helps the interviewer remember to restrict their natural reflex to interrupt or respond. Let the interviewee breathe! Let them answer organically, at their own pace, in their own direction when responding to a direct question.

You can always edit and tighten up the interview after, but in the moment, let it flow. The subject’s expanded responses often come after long pauses, which are quite natural.

And there you have it! With this basic tool-kit, you can acquire content to create story after story to share to engage donors and bring about greater awareness of what you do.

Remember: Practice makes perfect! Don’t be put off by one or two bad storytelling interviews. Every interview will be different and even those you may have initially felt were less effective, could really touch the heart of someone else! 

BONUS TIP: Thank Your Interviewee! 

The interviewee’s story, their truth, is a gift to you and your organization. Don’t forget to show your appreciation after you’ve completed your storytelling interviews.

Madison Gonzalez

Madison Gonzalez

Advancement Director at Morning Light, Inc.
Madison Gonzalez is a National Public Speaker, Storyteller of the Year Award-Winner, Best-Selling Author of Dear Mirror, Events Manager, and Published Poet. She is also the Advancement Director at Morning Light, Inc., and Indianapolis-based nonprofit that fosters community programs in Indiana for the terminally ill, seniors, families and the home-bound. As a storytelling coach and consultant, it is her mission to empower others to share their stories for impact and income. Madison can be reached at