Conversations You Can Have – Stories You Can Tell

Conversations You Can Have – Stories You Can Tell


6 February 2024


By David Allen, Development for Conservation


Some ten years ago or so, the keynote speaker for Rally was Andy Goodman and his topic was story-telling. His basic message was that we all need to be in the group of people who communicate all the time by telling stories. Most of us are NOT in that group.

If you know me, or at least know me through this blog, you will know that I have been singing this tune for a long time. Mr. Goodman’s message that day found an eager listener. And I wrote down what he said on the back of one of my own business cards. It is a card I still carry around with me today.

He said that every organization (and every Board director) should be able to tell seven different stories in a compelling way:

  • Stories that showcase our organization’s identity and culture
  • Stories that demonstrate the Nature of the challenge we are addressing
  • The story of how we got started
  • Stories that showcase our emblematic successes
  • Stories that showcase our values
  • Stories that demonstrate how we are striving to improve (grow)
  • Stories that show where we are going – our Vision


I have referenced this list on blog posts several times since then, including here – Communicating with Board Members. And I thought about the list again last week as we launched a ZOOM discussion hour called Some Time Thursday. The discussion topic was donor communications. The question I asked was “how are you communicating with people who donate to you differently from people who don’t (yet)?”

Except this time I turned it around in my head: seven stories that donors need to hear from us.


Think about it. We communicate with donors all the time in many different ways and using different media. In print, by email, on social media, using video, over the phone, and in person, of course. Perhaps walking along a trail or paddling a canoe. Are we communicating our seven stories?


Today, I want to take this idea a step further. Imagine sitting across the table from a donor or donors and having a casual conversation. Perhaps you’re at an event, or maybe you’re taking a break at a volunteer work party.

You want to use stories to communicate because stories show who we are, as opposed to just telling people who we are.

You want to use stories because stories trigger different responses in the brain than information does. They are stored in different places. And they are more memorable as a result.

You want to tell stories because it’s easier for the listener to picture themselves in the story – as part of the outcome.

You want to tell stories, because stories are picked up and shared later. That’s what viral communications is all about.


So what stories will you tell? What do we hope members and donors will understand? What do we hope that they will take as their own and share afterward?

Try these:

  • Impact: Tell donors how their contributions made a difference. Not about what YOU are doing with their money, but rather about what THEY are doing with their money.
  • Specific Programs and Projects: Stories about a recent effort – a land acquisition or restoration project. Or maybe a ribbon-cutting, community engagement project, or bird-count.
  • Milestone Projects: Stories about your first project, or largest project, or most recent project.
  • Other People: Stories about people they might know or at least know of – including dignitaries and celebrities, or young people who were inspired to pursue natural sciences professions.
  • Communities: Stories about the geographic and demographic communities you serve. Include the challenges you face and the progress you are making in your outreach and engagement.
  • Conservation as a Community Value: Stories about what the community might look like because of the work you are doing and what it might look like if you weren’t there.
  • Organizational Values: Stories about your land trusts guiding principles. The values that guide your decision-making. What you believe about the world that makes this work important. How and where do your organization’s values sync up with theirs?
  • Volunteers: Stories about people who donate time in addition to or even instead of money. Perhaps you have individual superstars. Perhaps there are teams. Don’t forget the contributions made by Board directors.
  • Leverage: Stories about money used as a catalyst for other conservation funding and outcomes. Leverage stories are particularly easy when talking about public/private matching grants, but even items such as bargain sales and in-kind donations can be seen as leveraged donations.
  • Staff: Large donations are influenced by trust. Your staff is smart, driven, passionate, and impressive. Tell their stories.
  • Challenges: Don’t sugar-coat problems and challenges. Lay them out as hurdles to be overcome in time.
  • Upcoming Events: Opportunities for donors to get further engaged.
  • Advice or Help: Does your donor have ideas about what is or isn’t working that they can see? Perhaps ideas for new programs or programs that hold no interest for them? Could they help in some structured way get the word out, share information with people they know, or create introduction opportunities?


OK – so that’s more than seven. The bottom line is that you have PLENTY to talk about. And write about, and share. Use stories! Show them instead of telling them.

Your own commitment will be leveraged. Your relationships will be strengthened. And your fundraising will be more effective.



Cheers and Have a Good Week!




PS: It was the Rally in 2014 – in Providence, Rhode Island. Rally will be in Providence again this year. Hope to see you there!

PPS: Your comments on these posts are welcomed and warmly requested. If you have not posted a comment before, or if you are using a new email address, please know that there may be a delay in seeing your posted comment. That’s my SPAM defense at work. I approve all comments as soon as I am able during the day.


Photo courtesy Pixabay



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  • Sonya
    Posted at 13:13h, 17 February

    Another excellent idea with practical actions we can take. If we want to…Thank you, David. Your are fast becoming one of my top thought leaders.

  • Joene Hendry
    Posted at 10:51h, 15 February

    I copied and pasted this to save in our files for continuous reference.
    Thank you!