Updated: Jul 20, 2022
We all know foundations want to hear about our clients. How are we making a difference on a human level? But how do we make sure the stories we're gathering contain the information foundations want to know?
It's important that you secure client testimonials beyond the basic "This nonprofit was great. Thank you for your help." Quality client testimonials can change your grant proposal's entire context and can help promote your nonprofit across a wide range of media. But, a bland testimonial gets lost in the crowd and can sometimes leave a potential donor wondering why the person sharing it didn't elaborate further. Are they hiding something? If their experience was positive, why wouldn't they want to share that in detail? Don't give your readers room to make assumptions. It's up to you to make sure that your client testimonials are high quality and relevant every time.
Here are some of the easiest ways to avoid bland testimonials and gather engaging information about your clients' unique experiences with your nonprofit to share impact with potential donors.
Start early. Don't wait to gather testimonials until you need them. Ask your clients to share their experiences with your nonprofit as soon as possible after that experience occurs. This timing will provide you with a much more emotional and true-to-life response than if you were to wait six months before reaching back out to that client. People tend to forget details, but those details are important to ensuring that their testimonial is unique and engaging.
Ask leading questions. While asking someone simply to provide you with a testimonial will get the job done, often, clients aren't sure of the information you're looking for. Asking "tell me about your experience" will probably get a rather generic response. But, asking, "How is your life different today than it was the day before you reached out to our nonprofit?" will get you a story. This story will help you paint a much more detailed picture of your impact on clients' lives and the change that happens when they interact with you. I suggest that you have a template of questions ready but edit them as needed for each unique client.
Be selective about who you're asking. You don't have to get a testimonial from every client. If you feel that someone will be more open or more responsive than someone else, trust your instinct. And, if a donor is interested in a certain demographic of people and you serve a larger population, be selective when seeking those testimonials. For example: If you are a family counseling service that also has a program serving single mothers and you find a private foundation that matches that specific program, make sure that you have at least one testimonial from a client in that program included in your grant proposal.
Refresh often. This one can be hard because if you get an amazing testimonial, you're sometimes tempted to use it forever. But if you make client testimonials part of your routine, you should have a steady stream of new stories to share with donors and potential donors. I recommend you refresh your "go-to" testimonials annually, every two years at the latest. Obviously, if you're submitting requests to the same donors year after year, you'll want new testimonials. Don't give them any deja vu moments when reading next year's proposal.
Realize they're not all going to be prize-winning. Set yourself a goal. This will vary based on the size of your organization. Maybe you want to gather 10 new client testimonials every quarter. Keep in mind that you will have to send out a lot more than 10 requests to get 10 quality testimonials. You may get responses from everyone you ask, but they may not be the quality you need. You can always go back and ask clients to elaborate a bit, but I've never personally had luck with that approach. Realize and understand that, while you may get 10 responses to a request, probably less than 4 of those will be at the level you will want to include in a grant proposal, e-newsletter, direct mail campaign, etc.
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