How to conduct strong interviews for compelling stories

Storytelling is an integral part of your fundraising success. It can bolster your supporter engagement and keep you grounded in your mission. Posting these stories on your website and social media can also prompt readers to find your online donation form. One of the most engaging narratives to tell is that of a person whom your organization has helped, and the tale is best conveyed firsthand. This means you'll need to interview others to gather these experiences. 

It's not always easy to approach someone for their story, and you may feel intrusive. But if you follow the right steps, you can catalyze respectful and mutually beneficial communication. Here are some tips for a successful meeting:

Set a friendly tone
When asking someone for their story, frame it as a conversation, suggested The Network for Good. The word "interview" is fraught with negative connotations, particularly that of an interrogation. You don't want to spark anxiety in your interviewee.

The conversational approach is truer to your purpose. You're interested in hearing someone's experience, not curating it. Try to ask open-ended questions, so you don't stifle the answers, said nonprofit fundraising expert Jennifer Miller. The more of the story you gather, the better.

Approach your conversation partner with kindness and empathy. Keep in mind that you're asking another person to open up about an emotional topic, and you want to do everything in your power to set them at ease. 

It's important to consider the effect of the interview space on the comfort of the person relaying their narrative. Ask them where they'd like to talk. By doing so, you signal respect for their comfort and immediately build trust.

Take a backseat
When it's time to chat, take the role of listener. After you thank the person for their time and set them at ease, let go of the reins. Give them control over their own experience. When you encounter pauses in the conversation, don't rush to fill the space. Chances are, your interviewee is forming a thoughtful answer to a question. If you try to cut off silence, you could also intercept a thoughtful response.

Facilitating an organic dialogue requires a willingness to go off-script. If you stick too closely to a list of predetermined questions, you risk taking too much control over the direction of someone else's story. This doesn't mean you shouldn't prepare prompts ahead of time, but don't keep your eyes glued to your notes. 

Follow through
After the interview is completed and the account typed up, ask the storyteller to approve the written version. You don't want to share a depiction that contradicts their lived experience. Thank a story-sharer not only for their time, but for helping you build your cause by engaging a larger community. 

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