Using Storytelling to Personalize Your Message and Grow Donors

Using Storytelling to Personalize Your Message and Grow Donors

August 14, 2020

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. 


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