5 Tactics for Seeking Stories and Testimonials for Your Nonprofit

Video Transcript:

Hi! Welcome to The High-Five Nonprofit Marketing Ideas, the video series for all of us who live for nonprofit fundraising and marketing. I’m Julia McDowell, marketing and advertising strategist with Five Ones. Today’s topic is Five Tactics for Seeking Stories and Testimonials on Your Nonprofit.

You may be thinking, “Stories? Nonprofit work is all about the numbers—dollars … ROI … Form 990s! Stories are soft.”

Hey, I get it. Nonprofits use data to track fundraising, measure membership and analyze outreach. So – if your organization serves a huge population or is tackling a widespread injustice – it’s understandable that you might frame your mission in terms of a massive number of people or dollars. But ultimately? Donors don’t want to help statistics. Volunteers can’t personally identify with an anonymous multitude.

In fact, research shows that people are often overwhelmed by the sheer scope of a need. They think that it’s futile to try to solve the problem, so they choose not to give or volunteer. On the flip side, other studies show that the more specifically a potential beneficiary is described, the more likely a potential donor is to give. Helping one person seems achievable. Plus, stories and testimonials from actual beneficiaries let supporters identify with them—because they’re real people, not numbers. And authentic testimonials can boost your nonprofit’s credibility; they’re proof that you are making an impact.

Before you seek out your nonprofit’s stories, get clear on which ones would be most helpful to your communications. Do you most need beneficiary messages about how a program works, volunteers to say what they get out of giving or donors to paint a picture of why they partner with you? Just like with fundraising, knowing your “area of greatest need” for testimonials will help you focus your story-collection efforts.

Once you’ve done that homework, you can pursue stories that will inspire hope, compassion and generosity. Here are my High-Five Tactics for Seeking Stories and Testimonials on Your Nonprofit.

Put a Share Your Story page on your website.

It’s a low-key way to ask people to give testimonials at their convenience. Sprinkle calls to action (CTAs) throughout your site to drive beneficiaries, donors and volunteers to your submission page, and use its URL in other communications to funnel all testimonials to one place. Petfinder, an online database of adoptable shelter and rescue animals, uses the CTA, “Share Your Happy [making air-quotes gesture] ‘Tail’” to ask pet parents to tell how they met their furry best friend and encourage animal adoption.

Mine online reviews.

Yelp, Greatnonprofits.org and Google Reviews can be fertile ground for ready-made testimonials. Your organization probably already monitors online review sites to do service recovery or uncover pain points, so look for stories, too. If your nonprofit owns its page or account on a platform, you can usually reply to comments. So, if you see one that could fill in your storytelling blank, reach out to the reviewer to say thanks and let them know that you’re excited to quote them in your marketing or fundraising communications.  

Get social!

Use social media listening to track brand mentions and turn up digital storytelling by your advocates, members and volunteers. Repost a great donor comment on Facebook or capture it to use elsewhere. Quote and pin a beneficiary’s Tweet to your nonprofit’s profile. Collect social media testimonials to use throughout your website or as the basis for a series of blog posts.


Speaking of social media… crowdsourcing isn’t just for raising money. Encourage people to submit testimonials on social with a branded hashtag. Add a link in your nonprofit’s Instagram bio to your website’s Share a Story page. Or ask your Facebook or Twitter followers a question, like what made them decide to support your nonprofit. In addition to being used for testimonials, their answers can help shape your donor-acquisition communications or requests for volunteers.

Reach out directly.

The shortest route between two points is a straight line, and the express route to getting a testimonial from someone is to ask them for it directly. You’ve already ironed out whether you need stories from beneficiaries, donors, volunteers or members, right? Frontline staff can recommend beneficiaries you could speak with and how best to approach them. Your major-gifts or corporate-partnership lead could point you to existing supporters willing to share why, with all the nonprofits out there, they chose to sponsor yours. And so on.

Regardless of which tactic you use to ask for stories, guide people to provide meaningful testimonials, not generic statements. ALERT: “Guide” doesn’t mean “ghostwrite;” it means prompting people to provide authentic details by asking them specific questions. Remember, the more specifically someone describes themself and their experience, the more likely that they’ll compel support for your nonprofit.  

Effective, donor-specific questions are ones like: What inspired you to make your first donation to us? What do you think is our most impactful work since you began giving? If you were going to tell your family or friends why you support our organization, what would you say?

For beneficiary testimonials, ask questions like: When did you first use our program and why? Which service have you found the most useful? Who is a staff member that you’ve worked with and what’s one thing they’ve done to help you?

The Catholic Medical Mission Board uses volunteer-story prompts like: Why was your role so critically needed by the field team? and How has volunteering changed your perspective on [the current medical crisis]? Tailored prompts mean focused testimonials.

The End. Those are my High-Five Tactics for Seeking Stories and Testimonials on Your Nonprofit. Leave a comment below, message me on LinkedIn or reach me at julia@fiveones.com if you have ideas on future topics for The High-Five: Nonprofit Marketing Ideas. Thanks for watching and look for another video soon!