Generosity in Giving: Best Motivated by Storytelling

Generosity in giving is best motivated by storytelling.

“Once upon a time…”

Not this kind of storytelling. But who does not love from time to time, a good “Once upon a time…” kind of story?

Generosity in Giving Workshop
Generosity in Giving Workshop

The kind of storytelling that best motivates generosity in giving is the personal and authentic.

My name is Steve McSwain. I’m the founder and CEO of the Foundation for Excellence in Giving, Inc., a company whose resolve is “to create a more conscious, compassionate, and charitable world.”

I have been a counselor and coach to congregations and non-profit, faith-based organizations for nearly two decades. Most of my counsel has been with congregations.

When it comes to charitable giving, however, it matters little whether you talking about raising money for a congregation or a charity. What motivates people to give is the same, whether you wish to inspire generosity in giving among charity supporters or congregational members…whether you are talking about raising support among Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, or a host of others.

Generosity in giving is motivated by the same methods. And, while the methods are varied, there is no better method than storytelling.

Storytelling is done in several ways.

1. You tell the story through the PURPOSE statement for the charity or congregation (called “Mission Statement” by some or “Vision Statement” by others).

Here the story must be interestingly and engagingly shared. Whether a charity or a congregation, your PURPOSE is who you are, as well as what you’re about. It is the difference-making aspect of your mission in the world. And, the way you tell this vital story or purpose determines whether you succeed or fail when it comes to raising financial support or motivating generosity in giving.

Spend time with this story of purpose.
Bring all the creative resources, and sympathetic souls, to work on it.
Run it by several respected people before you go public with it.
Then, embrace it as if it were your own personal purpose statement. It is.

2. You tell the story through various media platforms.

You use all of them. Consistently, too. Print materials. Video. Live-streaming video. An interactive website (most websites for charities and congregations are little more than glorified billboards or business cards). Social media, too. You should be texting and sharing daily your story. All of these mediums should be used to tell the story and so motivate generosity. Providing supporters the ability with the touch of their smartphone to make a donation right then and there is important, too. Millennials use this method of giving more than any other single method. Does your charity? Congregation?

As a congregation, beyond the pastor, priest, immam, rabbi, or spiritual leader, the next professional person on your staff should be a media specialist who knows how to creatively share the mission…your story with followers, supporters, and potential supporters.

That is, if you wish to motivate generosity in giving.

3. By far, storytelling is best done by people.

Provided, of course, they are the “right” people using the “right” storyline.

1) Here are a few ground rules to remember in crafting the story-line:

A. The story should be true and believable. I do not have to remind you, some stories sound neither true nor believable. They sound too outlandish to have any credibility.

The sick, poor soul, for example, who tells the story of going to a faith healer who miraculously heals her of Stage 4 melanoma only to find a check waiting in her mail when she returned home in the amount of $5 million dollars sounds more like “story-telling” than the telling of a real and believable story.

B. The story should be personal but brief. If you are the CEO, Director or Board Member of a charity or the spiritual leader of a congregation, your story should tell hearers why you got involved.

If you are writing your story for the brochure or video-brochure or standing before a group and giving a talk, keep the print portion to three hundred words or less. Keep the talk to seven or eight minutes or less.

Write it out.
Memorize it.
Until you do, you are not ready to share it.

2) Here are a few of the people who should be telling the story:

A. Director or CEO of the charity; or, the Spiritual Leader of the Congregation – the priest, pastor, immam, rabbi, etc.

B. Board Members – some will be better at this than others, but all should be helped in crafting their personal story. And, they should be actively using it to help generate support. The same is true of congregations. It should be more than the paid staff telling the congregational story and why they support the congregation’s purpose. It should be the members. In fact, the story should be shared mostly by the members, instead of the paid professionals. Furthermore, the story should be shared throughout the congregation’s calendar year and not only during the annual pledge campaign.

C. Far and away, the best persons to tell the story…the most believable and motivating storytellers…are the actual persons the charity or congregation has helped and is helping. Spend your time, efforts, and resources in identifying these persons, helping them craft their story, and share it widely. This will ignite generosity in donors.

Who are those telling your story?
What story are they telling?
How are they telling it?
And, what generosity impact is the story having?

Get the story right. Get the right people to share it. And, generosity among donors will never be too far behind.

Dr. Steve McSwain is an author, speaker, counsel to non-profits, faith-based organizations and congregations, and a spiritual teacher. He and his company, Foundation for Excellence in Giving, Inc., has assisted more than three hundred congregations and non-profits across the United States raise in excess of a half billion dollars for worthy causes. His books and blogs at, the Huffington Post, and his own website ( inspire countless followers, as well as hundreds of leaders in the business, non-profit, and religious world across all denominational and religious lines. Dr. McSwain is a devoted follower of Christ but an interfaith activist as well. He is frequently heard to say, in the words of Mother Teresa, “I love all religions; but I’m in love with my own.” His interfaith pendants are widely sought and worn by those who share in his vision of creating a more conscious, compassionate, and charitable world. Visit his website for more information or to book him for an inspirational talk on happiness, inner peace, and charitable living (


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