Telling Your Donor Story: How Diversity Can Increase Media Potential

Brian Lin (@brianlinUBC) is senior media relations specialist at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada.

Many journalists and media relations advisers would agree that the following three pieces of information are part of the foundation of a donor story:

  • How much is the gift for?
  • Who is it from?
  • What is it for?
Not surprisingly, the larger the amount, the more newsworthy the gift becomes. But even if the amount is astronomical and has a superlative attached to it (largest ever in the history of the institution, for example), it can essentially be reported in one paragraph—hardly the kind of media coverage donors and fundraisers want to see.
To facilitate more substantial news coverage, media relations advisers and fundraisers must work together to “mine” the human interest elements of a gift, starting with the donor and the purpose of the gift—and celebrating a donor’s diverse background can greatly increase the richness of the story and its media potential.
Even a simple background information such as “where is the donor from?” can enrich the story. It’s no wonder the place of origin is among the first questions we ask a new acquaintance—it speaks deeply to who we are and helps us relate to others. Drawing a line between where a donor is from to where a donor is now also helps us understand motivation: a much more relatable topic than a mere dollar figure. Is the donor a hometown girl who makes it big and gives back to her alma mater? Is the donor an immigrant investing in his new country as a thank you for granting him opportunities unavailable back home?
In addition to painting a fuller, more human picture, a resourceful communicator should also approach the donor’s hometown press as they may welcome a story about a homegrown philanthropist making good. Similarly, the ethnic or community press in your region may be more receptive to a “good news story” than your area’s newspaper of record.
For example, there is a sizable Chinese language press in Vancouver—three daily newspapers, two radio stations and two TV stations for a metropolis with a population of 2.5 million people. They are keenly interested in covering philanthropy relevant to the Chinese community in British Columbia. These stories are often syndicated in Hong Kong, China and Taiwan and are highly valued by the donors themselves because they are well regarded by the donor’s families, friends and peers.
News editors are constantly looking for the “new” in news. Celebrating a donor’s uniqueness and diversity can make the difference between a one-liner and a two-page spread.

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