Great Stories Start with Great Interviews

Woman types on keyboard

By Kathy Swayze

February 15, 2022

People give to people. So your fundraising letters, newsletters, email campaigns and case statements should highlight PEOPLE in your organization. Tell me about the people served by your organization, or the staff person who has dedicated their life to this work, or the donor whose generosity makes it all possible.

The facts are not enough — a good fundraising story or donor profile needs to make your reader feel something. How do you do that? It all starts with an interview with the person whose story you are telling. Here are three tips to help you uncover the good stuff when conducting interviews. 

  1. Establish rapport and trust. You want the person you are talking with to open their heart and share their deepest convictions. But why should they trust you? How do you make them feel safe and comfortable? Start by asking them to talk about themselves — and show genuine interest in what they say. Listen for common connection points. Do you both have kids, or dogs, or shared hobbies? Tell them at the outset of the conversation that you are committed to telling their story in an authentic and respectful way . . . and let them know they will have a chance to review the draft before it’s published. 
  1. Dig for Specifics. To make your story come to life, you need colorful details. With most interviews, you’ll have to probe with questions like, “Can you tell me more about that?” “How old were you when this happened?” “Were you scared? Excited? Confused?” “Can you paint a picture for me of that moment?”
  1. Be brave. You don’t need to shy away from tough or emotional questions if you’re listening with compassion and taking cues from the person you’re interviewing. If you create a safe environment for sharing, your empathy will encourage them to open up, even about difficult topics. And when you tap into the heartfelt emotion in a person’s story, you’re well on your way to igniting action from your donors.

It’s an incredible honor to tell another person’s story. So, always begin and end every conversation with a heartfelt thank you for their willingness to share.

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