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Six Tips for Collecting and Writing Better Testimonials

January 13th, 2010 Posted in Fundraising

Nonprofit communications consultant Merritt Engel says there’s nothing better than a personal, heartfelt story to put a face on a charitable cause. The best stories are testimonials told from the viewpoint and in the words of someone whose life your organization has changed.

It’s not easy to get an effective story, and it must be handled with great respect for the client’s dignity and privacy. But when it works, it’s more compelling than almost anything the organization can say on its own behalf. Here are some of Engel’s techniques for making the most of your chances for great testimonials.

Start with the end in mind

Talk to the program manager first and make sure you understand the context. What is the point, the goal of the story you want to write? Think of the final narrative and then work backwards to the questions.

Don’t call it an interview

You’ll make people nervous. Instead, Engel advises, ask the client if you can chat for a few minutes about the assistance he/she received.

Let the client talk

Begin by thanking the interviewee and putting him/her at ease. After that, says Engel, zip your lips. Keep your questions open-ended; for example, what did the help mean to you? Give people all the time they need to think about the question and respond to it, and don’t be afraid of silence.

Set the script aside

That list of questions mentioned in the first tip is a starting point, not a binding requirement. As you listen to the interview, be ready to change direction, probe and explore.

Get approvals

Give the interviewee a chance to review your draft for accuracy. In Engel’s experience, most make no changes. If there are any problems, you’ll have a chance to work them out before publishing the story. Keeping a paper trail will show that you’ve sought approval and discussed concerns.

Be prepared for anything

Engel cautions that you may encounter hostility, tears and other emotions if you’re interviewing someone who’s recently gone through a crisis. Stay calm, listen and be empathetic, she advises, but never say, I know what you’re going through.

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