Using Storytelling to Personalize Your Message and Grow Donors

Storytelling is a powerful marketing tool that personalizes your messaging and encourages readers to make a connection with your organization. Successfully blending storytelling into marketing involves relaying real experiences to create compelling narratives that elicit a genuine reaction from your donor base. 

Alex’s Story

The original narrative created through the Alex's Lemonade Stand foundation


Jay Scott, the executive director of Alex’s Lemonade Stand shares the impactful history behind the company’s mission, an example of a genuine story that can be used to inspire donors. Alex’s Lemonade Stand started as the dream of a young girl battling cancer and has since grown into a nationwide research foundation for childhood cancer. Alex lives on through the legacy of the foundation, where her story continues to impact the lives of thousands of people. 

The lemonade stand began as a small business outside of Alex’s home in Philadelphia. Advertising fliers were sent out and eventually, a passerby called the local newspaper. The resulting media coverage spread her story throughout the Philadelphia area. 

In one day, Alex was able to raise $12,000, which she then donated to the hospital where she was being treated. Through her lemonade stand, Alex’s mission to raise money for childhood cancer began to inspire people across the country, allowing her to eventually raise more than one million dollars for her cause. 

Alex’s story resonated with a wide range of people who were all inspired to give so they could help make a difference, showing the power of a story. Now, Alex’s Lemonade Stand continues to use her story in their messaging by including a picture of Alex in all their newsletters, as well as sharing her story during their yearly telethon.

Alex’s Lemonade Stand also regularly shares stories of kids who are currently receiving aid through the foundation. Highlighting individual cases where the organization is continuing to make a difference in the lives of children fighting cancer just as Alex did, is a testimony to the foundation’s commitment to its original mission based on Alex’s dream. 

By sharing Alex’s moving story and relating first-hand experiences of children who are now being assisted by the foundation, donors hear and respond to a message that is simple and relatable. Alex’s Lemonade Stand also encourages donors to give by providing demonstrations of the tangible results the foundation’s work has shown, which are only made possible by donations to this worthy cause.

Storytelling: The Key to Setting Yourself Apart

Every organization has a mission, which is the expression of its purpose and an explanation of the value it offers to the community. For donors to have a clear understanding of why they should give to your cause, they must comprehend the specific unmet needs you fill and why their support is so vital. 

The first step in creating a story that clearly communicates your organization’s purpose, while making its goals relatable to your donors is to set yourself apart from the many other worthy charitable endeavors that are competing for donations from that same pool of givers. How do you distinguish yourself in the eyes of your target audience?

Developing a mission statement that describes the values and objectives your nonprofit was created to accomplish provides the basis for a compelling narrative that will evoke a positive response from donors. Formulating a solid mission statement involves developing your backstory to illustrate the driving force behind the decision to found the nonprofit. A persuasive mission statement also includes a discussion of your future goals and how they were inspired by your original story and fit within the stated values of your organization.

The Power of Storytelling in Personalizing Your Message

The 3 C's of Transmedia Storytelling


Once you have a narrative to share with your audience, you can begin crafting a plan for transmedia storytelling. This is the process of dispersing various elements systematically across multiple delivery channels for the purpose of creating a unified entertainment experience. 

Why is creating a continuous narrative important? By sending out a cohesive message across your channels, your story becomes easier to personalize, increasing the likelihood it will resonate with donors as they consume content that aligns with their interests. Through your outreach, you can track the types of messaging that evoke engagement. This information allows you to segment donors into groups based on their personal preferences. 

When your story is unified, analyzing your engagement rates and donor reaction to your messaging becomes easier. Collecting and analyzing this information is vital in helping your organization to craft personalized messaging and send it to the correct target audience.

Take Alex’s Lemonade Stand for example. This foundation has utilized the art of transmedia storytelling to continue reaching a wide audience to find and inspire new donors.

Personalizing Emails Equal Marketing Success

Incorporating storytelling into your email marketing strategy will improve your engagement rate, driving more traffic to your online presence. 

Email segmentation plays a key role at Alex’s Lemonade Stand. The foundation makes sure to categorize their donors and share relevant stories based on the interests of each group. Jay Scott shares how this process works, explaining that these groups are broken down into lists of 1,000, 2,000, or 5,000 donors. According to Jay, these segmented email lists tend to have 2-5 times more engagement than their mass distribution list. 

While you continue to use an overarching narrative in your messaging, it is important to take it a step further by breaking your content down into smaller, more targeted subsets. Doing so will maximize your ability to attract attention from specific donors. 

It may seem like extra work to split up your email list into these groups. However, the effort is well worth it. Using personalized emails can substantially grow your return-on-investment (ROI).  WealthEngine’s platform can improve the efficiency of your email segmentation process by easing the manual workload. WealthEngine also offers a pool of 250 million pre-scored profiles the platform analyzes for you to identify which narratives are most likely to resonate with each group. 

Storytelling: The Basics of Custom Content

Custom content develops as you analyze metrics and segment your lists. Just as personalizing your email messages is important for donor engagement so is sharing custom content with your audience.

Avoid sharing stock photos, and find media from your organization to post instead. Your donors will appreciate seeing how their donations are being put to use, so share your organization’s mission through success stories and examples of their money at work.

Avoid “fluff” and filler content. Custom content works best when it is a genuine message that can resonate with your audience. Don’t overwhelm inboxes with constant newsletters and updates that aren’t providing valuable insights. Focus your efforts on sharing meaningful stories relating to all the ways your organization is making a difference. 


WealthEngine Product Update August 2020

WealthEngine Product Update – August 2020 from WealthEngine on Vimeo.


With a new month comes a number of key features, improvements and continued enhancements. Check out the details of our latest product updates, or skip ahead to the 5:00 minute mark to catch a live demo.

Increased Charitable Donations Limit

Every profile directly updated with giving data and history. Now access over 170 million donation records, adding 500k per month, plus insider stock trades and more.

Value: $318,000,000

5-Star Rated Salesforce Connector

Seamless access to all of your refresh data directly within your CRM. Click here to get it from the AppExchange.

Interactive Screening Insights

Leverage an all new interactive report featuring detailed screening insights with just one click. Measure Propensity to Give vs. Estimated Giving Capacity and discover the steps for obtaining your next best prospect.

The New Donor Pyramid Modeler

Customers can now analyze and prioritize their best prospects and not just on giving capacity, but by other attributes to maximize their ‘ask,’ driving higher lifetime value and retention.


All of our models have programmatic endpoints that can create a value added benefit to every DONATE NOW button webpage. Automatically call our ‘NEXT-ASK MODEL’ to create the ‘right ask’ driving up your LYV for every donor you connect with online.

Enhanced Connections

Our customers find 30% of their new prospects from their current donors and members connections. They tend to give more consistently and at a 18% higher donation amount than non-referrals. This can improve fundraising results by 22% per campaign.

WEAdmin Report Tracking

Maximize your usage across your environment and know who your power user is within your environment. Reward them!

Interested in learning more and accessing refreshed data to get the latest insights about your donors and prospects? Click here.

How to Target Donor Advised Fund Givers for Fundraising

When your fundraising team looks for donors, they may look to those in the community with influence, connections, and wealth. An often overlooked group includes those with donor-advised funds. Check out the information below about donor-advised funds (DAFs) and their impact on charitable organizations: 

What are Donor-Advised Funds?

New York Community Trust created the first donor-advised funds in the early 1930s. According to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), “a donor-advised fund is a separately identified fund or account that is maintained and operated by a section 501(c)(3) organization, which is called a sponsoring organization.” The donor owns the account and grants funds to nonprofit organizations to manage. 

Donor-advised fund accounts are available at financial institutions like Schwab and Fidelity. Account managers who oversee DAFs inform members of charities to contribute to from their advised fund accounts. Any 501(c)(3) organization with a current, verifiable listing on the IRS website can receive contributions. 

These types of funding accounts have a unique benefit for nonprofit organizations. This is called what Amy Pirozzolo, Director of Marketing at Fidelity Charity, refers to as the “second power” or “sustaining power.” DAFs allow nonprofit organizations to use the allotted funding as they see fit over a long time period, including being used as a safety net on a rainy day. The funds continue to appreciate after being granted to nonprofits, allowing charities to receive more funds over time.

DAFs are sources of sustaining funds that allow nonprofits to thrive even during down fundraising times like during a recession. They also provide benefits to the donors. Some of the reasons people choose to start donor-advised funds include: 

  1. The desire for a generous legacy in retirement years
  2. They want to give back excess income  
  3. The continuance of giving throughout retirement 
  4. They have funds to give, but either don’t have the time to give or are uncertain about what organization to make their fund’s sponsoring charity 
  5. The ability to give appreciated securities 
  6. The opportunity to grow their donation tax-free 
  7. A donor had a windfall or a high-bonus year
  8. The ability to see all one’s grants and gifts in one area and better manage one’s giving 
  9. There is an immediate tax reduction on the funds inside the account  
  10. DAFs are easy to set up and manage 

How People Become Interested in Giving Through DAFs: Boston Healthcare for Homeless 

Michael Bradley felt an urge to give back when he received a $1,000 scholarship at age 13. Years later, he came across Boston Healthcare for Homeless, a nonprofit that provides medical, behavioral, and dental services for the homeless, and contributed. He was invited to tour the medical center and heard stories of some of the patients served. 

Inspired by Boston Healthcare for Homeless’ mission and the selflessness of the leadership, Michael decided to contribute through his donor-advised fund. Michael observes, “When you make a contribution to the donor-advised fund, you’re dealing with a system that really is built to make it possible for you to put 98% of your thinking into the giving and 2% into the execution.” 

Michael started with a small donation. After a tour of the facility and connecting with the mission of Boston Healthcare for Homeless, he decided to make the organization a sponsor for his donor-advised fund. Additionally, the appreciation of the securities in his DAF enabled him to make a larger and more impactful contribution than he could have made with cash or a check. 


Who are DAF Donors and Why They Matter

DAF donors can make a significant fundraising impact on nonprofit organizations. Who are these donors and what difference can their donor-advised funds make? Below are some observed characteristics of these donors and why their giving is important.

Characteristics of DAF donors:

  1. They’re very engaged and involved. Generally, 79% of these donors volunteer. In comparison, only twenty-five percent of the general population volunteers.
  2. The average age is about 65, with most donors starting their DAFs around age 55
  3. They are close to or are recently retired and are thinking about the next stage in their life 
  4. These donors are at their highest-income-earning years, having paid off major expenses, and they want to “give back” excess funds 
  5. Most have modest amounts in their DAF funds (less than $25,000) though donors represent all income levels


DAFs have taken off in popularity relative to private foundations. A big reason for this is a donor with an advised fund can make an impact with their contributions during their lifetime. With private foundations, the donor’s name (and contributions) are designed to live on after they have passed. 

Fidelity Charitable, an organization that oversees DAF contributions for nonprofit clients, has noted the power of donor-advised funds. They have noticed that over the last 10 years, the number of grants in a donor-advised account rose from 5.8 to 10.4. Additionally, the average grant of $4000 has increased between 15-20% year over year.

Last year, Fidelity Charitable noted $582 million in grants coming from donors with advised funds. They have given $35 billion to charities over multiple years. The investment income and appreciated securities from DAFs contributed to an additional $11 billion for charities. 

How to Find and Engage DAF Donors

Donors with advised funds are audiences your fundraising team can’t ignore. While they can start with a modest $50 donation, they can become loyal, long-time supporters if they believe in your mission. Below are some things to keep in mind when identifying DAF donors:

  • Donor Modeling

In finance, modeling refers to predicting the future cash flow of an individual or organization based on their current earnings or payouts. When it comes to donors with advised funds, the modeling or predicting isn’t solely about how much they make or are able to give. Instead, it is looking at the donor’s age and the new life stage they are about to transition into.  

Major birthdays like 40, 50, or 60 are models to look at. When donors are at this stage of life, they are in the middle of or ending their careers. They are financially stable and have experienced a sudden boost in income and tend to make larger contributions.

If your organization waits to reach out to these donors after they see that income boost, you’re too late. Other charities are already in line asking for donations. That is where DAF modeling comes in handy. It enables you to have the donor on your fundraising radar before these life and income changes occur. 


  • Successor Agreements and Automatic Grants

In many cases, wealthy donors will list a successor organization to become the beneficiary of their DAFs when they pass. Donors with advised funds will likely name the nonprofits they are currently contributing to as successors. This means it’s important to identify and pursue these donors early on. 

Besides setting up a successor agreement with a donor, allowing them to quickly and easily make grants from their DAF to the organization is another way to find and engage these types of donors. With automatic grants, donors with advised funds will come to you after learning about your organization. 

  • Engage and Welcome

Unlike other donors who can spare a one-time donation, those with advised funds have extra money designated specifically for charitable contributions. Additionally, these funds carry appreciation which increases their donation. These donors are looking for nonprofits to give funds to and need to be a top priority for your fundraising team. 

Like Michael and the Boston Healthcare for Homeless, the power of relationship-building with DAF donors is essential for your organization to stay at top of mind when donors are looking for sponsor organizations to contribute to. Start with a “Thank You” acknowledgment of their first gift. Then, create more touchpoints between them and your organization like a site visit.

As noted previously, donors with advised funds want to see and experience the impact of their contributions. A phone conversation, a video embedded in an email, a lunch meet-up or a site visit are ways you can show DAF donors the specific and detailed impacts their contributions have on those your organization serves. The more powerful and compelling your mission is and the greater the difference the contribution makes, the more persuaded potential DAF donors will be to give. 

Another example of the power of DAFs is the story of Dan and Jill Francis. They were able to give an additional $170,000 to a charity because of the appreciation and investment income generated through their DAF. This hefty donation enabled the Francis fund to educate an extra 79 at-risk preschool students. 

Donor-advised funds benefit the donor as much as the charity that receives the contribution. The appreciation of the securities of DAFs enables donors to give more to the organizations they care about. Donors can also see where their funds go and observe the immediate impact their gift has made.

These types of funds are meant to provide a convenient and more impactful giving option for donors. They also give the donor more control over where and how their contributions will be spent. DAFs also allow donors to give back when they have their highest income level.

  • Make DAF Contributions Easy With Direct Links 

Fidelity Charitable, Vanguard Charitable, and Schwab Charitable are the most common, national donor-advised funds. Pirozzolo notes, “There are around 468,000 donor-advised fund accounts in the US, with 50% of those in a major DAF. The other 50% are community foundations (30%) and single-issue donor-advised funds (20%).” 

Fidelity Charitable has found that organizations that allow donors to connect their DAF accounts make larger contributions. DAF Direct, a widget made by Schwab Charitable, allows nonprofits to do that. It connects a donor’s advised fund account directly to the specific charitable organization of their choosing. 

This widget creates a deep link a nonprofit organization can put on their donation page or letter that takes a donor to their DAF login page. From the login page, the contribution is populated with the nonprofit organization in the checkout process hosted by Schwab Charitable, Fidelity Charitable, or a similar DAF.  If you’re not familiar with DAF Direct, you can register on their website.



A great case study where DAF Direct is used is The Pan-Mass Challenge bike ride. In the widget, a participant can send solicitations to friends with a link to use their donor-advised funds. The donor can select the rider’s name and he or she will get credit for raising those funds. 

  • How to Get Started With Donor-Advised Funds

The first step in setting up your nonprofit for donor-advised funds is getting it listed on the Internal Revenue Services’ website. Once it is in the IRS database and listed, it will be picked up by organizations like Charitable Fidelity. Businesses that connect donors with sponsoring organizations to receive DAFs compile lists based on IRS nonprofit listings. 

Being listed on sites like Charity Navigator with current organization information is another option as Charity Fidelity and similar organizations scrape this and similar sites for nonprofits to include on their DAF sponsor lists. You can sign up for electronic DAF transfers once you register. Once connected, donors will have the option to select your organization as the sponsor or recipient of their donor-advised funds.

Donors who have an advised fund need to be one of the key supporter groups your fundraising team prioritizes fosters long-term relationships with. Fidelity Charitable and WealthEngine have a unique partnership whereby nonprofits can identify, learn about, and engage with various donor groups including those with donor-advised funds. WealthEngine provides charities with software that includes details about the wealth, giving capacity, and other financial data of donors, including whether they have an advised fund. 

WealthEngine helps nonprofits by educating fundraisers on ways to get donations effectively and efficiently. Fidelity Charitable can help nonprofits get listed to become a sponsor organization for the donor-advised funds of their members. Together, WealthEngine and Fidelity Charitable help charities find and cultivate donors with advised funds.