In this video, Amy Eisenstein sits down with Lori Jacobwith – a master storyteller and fundraiser, and the founder of Ignited Fundraising. Lori shares her storytelling techniques and explains how they can help your nonprofit raise more money.

We’re proud to sponsor Amy Eisenstein’s video series! Be sure to check back on our blog for more conversations with some of the top experts in the nonprofit sector. To see other free resources that we’ve collaborated with Amy on – like research studies and webinars – please visit

Full Transcript:

Jay: Hello, I’m Jay Love with Bloomerang, and we’re delighted to bring you the following video. One of the things I wanted to point you to is our website where there’s additional educational materials that we provide on an ongoing basis, whether it’s a weekly webinar, ebook downloads, various blogs, etc., from experts from all across the world that you will help you be better with your fundraising. Enjoy the video.

Amy: Hi, I’m Amy Eisenstein, and today, I’m with my friend, colleague, and mentor, Lori Jacobwith. I’m so excited to talk with her today. We’re going to be talking about storytelling. Lori is the founder of Ignited Fundraising and she is a fundraising culture change expert and master storyteller. Welcome, Lori.

Lori: Thank you, Amy. It’s really an honor to be here.

Amy: I’m so excited to talk to you. Let’s tell some stories. So, what do we need to know as fundraisers about storytelling, and how does it help our fundraising?

Lori: Well, the first thing I’d like people to know is what you call a “story” might not be a story. It might be more of a report. It’s a list of facts, you put a picture there, you say this person got a job, and then they got a home, and then they did this, and they call it a story.

Amy: I would think that might be a story. It’s not a story, huh?

Lori: It’s not really a story if I don’t feel something about that person. So the missing piece is, what are the transformations? What did that person feel? Because that’s then how I connect in for how I might feel if that were me, or my grandfather, or my child, or the river in my backyard.

Amy: Yeah. How can fundraisers get better at telling stories? I mean, that makes so much sense. It’s such a great point.

Lori: Well, it’s to pay attention to the little details. So, rather than saying, “The river is polluted,” talk about the feeling that you had as a child when you got to canoe, paddle down the river, and it was clean, and you could jump in and swim. And today, how it smells. And how you won’t let your children play in it because it’s damaged beyond repair.

Amy: That is much more powerful than just saying the river is polluted.

Lori: Exactly.

Amy: Which, you’re right, those are facts but it doesn’t evoke emotion.

Lori: Or a picture. You know, what you’re doing is you’re telling stories here, on camera, but you’re allowing us to tell a little bit about ourselves, or why, or how. Almost always, when you’re telling a client a story, some of that is missing. We’re pretending that by saying what is it that this person did is going to evoke this big feeling of, “I better give them lots of money.” Well, Jennifer got a scholarship of $5,000, doesn’t get me very excited. But if Jennifer had three jobs and the scholarship allowed her to drop one of those jobs so she could get her homework done and tuck her child into bed.

Now, you feel something about that scholarship, and it was only $5,000. Well, maybe I could do $1,000 a year for five years, and I know that Jennifer’s life is different.

Amy: Yeah. Great point. Tell me one more story.

Lori: All right. So, there’s a CEO that I worked with who said, on a syllabus of learning how to be a CEO, and really a social worker, never did it say fundraising in storytelling. I wasn’t taught this. And we have to raise millions of dollars to build this building. So what do I do? I don’t want to ask people for money. And so, we talked about why she did her work. She said, “Well, it’s because of the [Metta Center 00:04:06] across the street.” This was a community health center. She said, “People speak 40 languages there. They come in and they pray to whomever they want to pray to. We have a little tiny . . . not a food shelf, but a clothes shelf. You know, sometimes they’re coming in needing clothes. These are immigrants that had been in the country very short time. But I’ll go sit in the lobby.”

This is the CEO of a large community health center. She would sit in the lobby and she would watch a mom and a daughter navigate, speaking a different language, seeing a doctor maybe for the first time since they’ve been here. And she would be comfortable talking about that to donors. She would explain that there was nowhere else in the city that those people could be seen. And donors would say, “Well, how much does it cost to help them?” What is the best question a donor can ask you? “What does it cost?” and “How could I help?”

Amy: “How can I help?” That’s the question, right? And then you can say . . .

Lori: Then you’ve got them.

Amy: Yeah. Then you’ve . . . yeah.

Lori: So what we did is, the CEO learned to just tell stories. And she would take a story and show a little part of something that was different because of the community health center. And I think she asked for maybe two gifts in that $5 million campaign.

Amy: Wow. Now, I don’t want viewers going away with the idea that they don’t have to ask for money, but storytelling absolutely makes your job easier.

Lori: Well, someone else did. The truth is, someone else asked for the gifts.

Amy: Okay. So she was telling the story and then somebody else was asking for the gifts, which is a great point too, because, certainly, a lot of our CEOs, board members don’t want to ask for gifts. So if they can become the master storytellers, everybody’s job is easier.

Lori: There’s a way that your skills and talents can be included in this process, especially if you’re the board chair or the CEO. Because, really, your job is to expand the pool, right?

Amy: Right.

Lori: Of both donors and awareness. And then someone else, Mora [SP], in this case, the development director would invite the gift.

Amy: So how can nonprofits best use stories?

Lori: Well, first of all, use them everywhere. If I go to your website, is there an actual story? Not a list of the facts, but a little bit of a story, and it could be a six-word story, it could be a three-sentence story. Is there one on your website, on the homepage. Is there one on your donate page? Or do I go to this donate, like, grid that I just fill my information in? Is there a way to compel me from that?

What I call your website is, like, “the kitchen” at your house where everybody hangs out, right? Before they go to an event, they go to your website. Before they make a gift, they go to your website. Whatever it is, they’re going to your website. So if they want to know who to call, they go to your website. So make sure there are stories there.

Social media, have people tell stories about you. Your donors, your volunteers, certainly, your clients, if possible, but you want to ask them just one or two questions. Why is your life better because of what we’re doing? Who have you met here that you can’t get off your mind and why? Maybe your program staff. Who can’t you get off your mind?

We often hear . . . You probably hear this too, Amy. We hear people say, if they’re on the development team, “My program staff, they don’t help me find the stories to tell.” Well, are we asking the question that actually evokes a story? Or are we asking them to tell us a story?

Amy:Oh, great question.

Lori:Most people don’t know how to tell a story, or they’re worried that they’re going to do it wrong.

Amy: Yes. Probably both. But I think, really, that they don’t know how to tell a story. So asking them who . . . How did you say it? Who sticks out in your mind?

Lori: Who can’t you get off your mind?

Amy: Yes. Who can’t you get off your mind?

Lori: Who are you still thinking about from last week?

Amy: Great.

Lori: Or the first week you started here.

Amy: Love it. And those are the important stories to tell the board members at a board meeting so that they remember to tell them . . .

Lori: Well, I have another thought about that.

Amy: Okay, good. Go ahead.

Lori: Because, really, do we want our board members to tell stories? Or do we want them to hear stories? So, during board orientation, it’s your first, maybe, six weeks as a board member, I like to require each board member to meet one person that is served by your organization. Their own person. Might be a different person, different programs. And then they come back to the next board meeting and talk about that person. With a little, maybe, a little coaching about what they learned, and how did that person feel, and did they feel meeting that person.

Amy: Wow, that’s powerful.

Lori: So it’s a story then. And now, I have a story to tell about the organization, and I didn’t just read it. I didn’t just hear it one time, I’ve actually . . . I’ve assimilated into myself, so it becomes my story.

Amy: Yeah, beautiful, beautiful. Any specific tools, tactics, techniques that we can help people tell better stories?

Lori: Well, I have a two-page template, that’s a free download that we could tell people about, if you’d want.

Amy: Great. We’ll share it.

Lori: It’s how does that person feel? How did they come to you? But it takes you through step-by-step, and one of the little instructions at the bottom. It’s boring2brilliant, boring, the number two,, how many times are you using feeling or descriptive words. So, she felt as if she had lost her soul. Her hands were gnarled so bad, she couldn’t brush her daughter’s hair, and she felt like a failure as a mom. Now, that’s a different way of describing our arthritis than saying she had arthritis.

Amy: Yeah, totally different.

Lori: So the template will talk you through how to tell a story not forgetting then those transformational feelings. It’s two pages. It’s easy. You give it to your board member when they meet that client, and they’ll actually tell a better story because you’ve guided them through the process.

Amy: Yeah, great. Thank you for that excellent resource. Now, do you think anybody can tell a good story?

Lori: I think that most people, to be honest, can’t tell a good story. I think they can tell the facts really well. I think that we can tell details that are pieces of a good story, and anyone can tell that. So, let me give you an example. I worked at the Department of Ophthalmology, not a very sexy mission, right? And I heard about a woman who had to have cornea transplant surgery. And I was asking, and nurses, and tech people about this woman, Sandra. Nobody told a good story about Sandra. So, my job was to gather the details and the nuggets and then put together, as the development director, that recounting of Sandra’s story.

I believe if you’re on the communication team, if you are the development to anything, our job is to tell a powerful story and you can train yourself to do that. You’re not always trained as the CEO, or the board chair, or the program staff, so I put together the story of Sandra, explaining that not that she needed cornea transplant surgery, but that when she woke up in the morning and she looked in the mirror, it was as if there was soap or so much steam on the mirror that she couldn’t see her face. And when she got the surgery she needed from someone we’d trained, she got to see the faces of her seven and nine-year-old little boys for the very first time.

Amy: Now, that’s a powerful story. All right, what parting words of wisdom would you like to leave with our viewers? What actions can they start to take immediately, in addition to downloading your worksheet, that they can start to tell better stories?

Lori: Listen for when you’re moved or inspired. It could be when someone looks at you a certain way. What did you feel and why? That’s the story.

Amy: Okay.

Lori: And then start to invite people to tell you the details and put them together in a way you would tell your best friend. What is it about that moment or that person? I believe you can train yourself to tell powerful stories. Writing is a little bit easier because you can edit and edit and edit. It’s the telling part that becomes a bit of an art, so practice.

Amy: Yeah, excellent. Thank you so much for joining me. I’m thrilled to have you.

Lori: Me too. Thank you, Amy.

Amy: Take care, Lori.

Kristen Hay

Kristen Hay

Marketing Manager at Bloomerang
Kristen Hay is the Marketing Manager at Bloomerang. From 2018 - 2020, she served as the Director of Communications for the Public Relations Society of America's local Hoosier chapter. Prior to that she served on several different committees and in committee chair roles.