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How-to Library • Featuring articles from past issues of Contributions

Which is More Persuasive to Donors: Numbers or Stories?

By Harvey McKinnon

There are two measurement tools donors like: numbers and stories.

Measurement through numbers

A certain kind of donor likes hard numbers. Often the bigger the better.

• “Your community hospital serves 600 emergency patients a day – more than any other hospital in the city.”

• “Your contribution helped us serve 1,756 meals to the poor on Thanksgiving.”

• “$100,000 can provide scholarships to 10 deserving students who couldn’t otherwise afford to attend the university.”

11 Questions Every Donor Asks
ALSO BY THIS AUTHOR: Harvey McKinnon is the author of The 11 Questions Every Donor Asks and the Answers All Donors Crave. For more information, click here.

Each of these examples is the start of measurement. The extension of this would be to report more detail:

• “There was an average of three heart attack victims rushed to the Emergency Room every day. We were able to save 1,095 lives last year. Imagine how many family members are grateful that you donated $____.”

• “The 1756 meals included feeding 72 children whose parents have fallen on hard times.”

• “19 out of 20 scholarship students graduated. 13 went on to get second degrees including 4 Master’s Degrees, 1 in law, 1 in engineering, 1 MBA, 2  in medicine, and 1 Ph.D.”

Here, you’re detailing exactly how the donor’s gift transformed lives and contributed significantly to the community.

Measurement through stories

Stories can incorporate a discussion of numbers, but they can also stand on their own. And if you had to choose one or the other you should always choose the story.

“How do we measure your gift’s impact? Let me tell you the story of my baby.

“When our baby Jack was born, it was the first time I saw my husband cry. I remember lying on the delivery bed listening to the emergency call for the respiratory therapist, hearing the urgency in the voices of my nurses and doctor.

“We’d known, even before the decision to deliver Jack seven weeks early, that there was something seriously wrong with him.

“Jack was born with a rare condition called an omphalocele. He was born with his liver, stomach and intestines in a sac outside his body, attached to his umbilical cord.

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“The nurses told us to prepare ourselves –  to prepare for the worst. But thanks to the amazing expertise and loving care provided by the doctors and nurses at the hospital – and Jack’s fighting spirit – we were finally able to take our baby home for good, nine long months later, just before the holidays.

“Our gratitude at being able to celebrate the holidays together as a family with Jack’s 3-year old brother, Tommy, was overwhelming. I find it hard to express the debt I feel we owe to this great hospital and their incredible staff. They saved my baby!

“Which is why I’m writing to you today – to sincerely thank you for your past support of the hospital. You helped provide the world-class medical staff, technology, and equipment that enabled Jack to survive.”

Stories are almost always more powerful than numbers. And yet you have to be prepared with both for two reasons: one to prove you track these things and two because some donors really do want to know.

Harvey McKinnon is the author of The 11 Questions Every Donor Asks and also co-author of the international bestseller, The Power of Giving. His other works include, Hidden Gold, and the audio CD How Today’s Rich Give (Jossey-Bass), as well as the Tiny Essentials of Monthly Committed Giving (White Lion Press).

McKinnon, who is one of North America’s leading fundraising experts, runs the Vancouver/Toronto based fundraising consultancy, Harvey McKinnon Associates (HMA) www.harveymckinnon.com.

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