Storytelling for Advancement

For those not in the know, Advancement was formerly Development, and Development was formerly Fundraising. And so fundamentally, when we talk about storytelling in advancement, we're talking about activities that help support fundraising. But names are important, and these name changes are meaningful in terms of what fundraising has come to mean over time. In the long term, fundraising means creating strong relationships and networks of relationships between people with different kinds of resources (time, money, information). These relationships are based on shared values, and the way we know that we share values is to tell each other stories.

In order to tell stories, you have to find stories. Over several years, I've come up with several kinds of stakeholders who may serve as sources of stories that advancement professionals and professionals in nonprofits more generally can try to find in, around, or about their organization.

And to hear a great story, you have to ask a good question. In campus fundraising, or perhaps for any program where people go through a process of enrollment/affiliation, learning, and departure/graduation, I've found that there are a range of questions that tend to elicit interesting stories.

When you ask those stakeholders about their positive experiences in the past or their aspirations for the organization for the future, you have an excellent chance of hearing really interesting stories about how organizations have real impact in people's lives. You have to get permission from the source of the story, of course, but retelling people's stories can be the most effective and efficient way to share the meaning of your work.

Here's a full set of slides on storytelling and advancement from a presentation from October 2016:

With big thanks to Hilary Pope ( who is my amazing graphic designer!