Is your donor a Spi­der­man, Bat­man or a Won­der Woman?

Super­heroes have a unique back­sto­ry that makes them who they are and shapes their nar­ra­tive. But in fundrais­ing, your donor has an ori­gin sto­ry’ too. Mari­na Jones believes that mak­ing an effort to learn more about your donor’s sto­ry can give you an insight into why they choose to give – and help you build sup­port­er loyalty.

Written by
Marina Jones
February 28, 2024

Every superhero has an ‘origin story’. It’s a key part of their narrative and this explanation of how they got their powers is crucial to their story.

But what has this got to do with fundraising?

Donors also have origin stories. And as a fundraiser, knowing their origin story and how they got involved in your charity can help you connect with them – building loyalty and a stronger relationship.

Keep reading to find out which superhero identity your donor has and begin to understand why their specific origin story matters.

Spiderman – bitten by the bug

How did Peter Parker become Spiderman? We all know he got bitten by a radioactive spider which gave him supernatural powers.

Your donor might be Spiderman if they had a transformative moment that connected them to your work. In a theatre context, it is often the first theatre visit that inspired the lifetime connection. They were they literally bitten by the bug and say things like ‘it was an instant addiction’ and ‘I was hooked’.

Superman – born like it

Clark Kent is really the alien Kal-El from Krypton. His powers work as super strength on Earth.

Like Superman, for some donors the charities they support are part of their DNA – they cannot remember a time when they weren’t involved or connected with you. This is very often true of those brought up in faith who have never known a time when they haven’t given to certain charities or supported faith-based organisations.

Batman – trauma and fighting injustice (or choosing things that resonate)

As a child, Bruce Wayne witnesses his parents murdered in front of him. He vows to fight injustice. He then spends years training with various martial arts specialists so that he can fight injustice and crime.

For donors, the origin of their support can be based on a very personal and traumatic reason too. A disease or medical condition that they (or a friend or family member) have had could trigger this response. They still want to speak about the reason and tell their story (remember the family member who died, celebrate recovery from a disease) so it’s important to still ask them about their story.

Or your supporter could be a fighter of injustice who has been inspired by human rights issues, poverty, abuses of power or any number of injustices. That passion to fight for justice and a fairer world has sparked the desire to support your cause and change the world for the better.

However, as well as a passion for justice, Bruce Wayne realises that skill alone is not enough. He says ‘Criminals are a superstitious cowardly lot’, so he knows that ‘my disguise must be able to strike terror into their hearts. I must be a creature of the night, black, terrible …’. At that moment a bat flies past and he decides that this will becomes his symbol – and Batman is created.

Like Batman, donors choose the charities that resonate with them and what they care about. There are many charities that support a cause, but certain brands, tones or approaches resonate with supporters (whether more campaign, immediate help, or research) and they actively choose to support those.

What are your origin stories for the charities you support?

There are probably some where you had a Spiderman transformation moment. Others might be about fighting injustice, or you might have chosen to fight injustice in that way. And some might be so much part of your DNA that you always have supported them.

This cartoon from The New Yorker – showing Superman, Spiderman and Batman in a pub being asked about how they got into their line of work is a fun example.

Interestingly, female superhero origin stories are less well known and often replicate those above. Wonder Woman, like Superman, develops her natural ability from her Amazonian heritage, while others are born mutants (a being that is the result of a change or mutation in it’s DNA) or exposed to chemical clouds that impact their powers.

How do you find out what type of superhero your donors are?

Ask them.

Talk to your donors about their first connection with your charity. With arts and theatre this is an easy thing to do:

‘What’s the first show you came to see here?’

The stories they share will tell you a lot about them. But be sure to actively engage with the answers and ask follow-up questions (tell me more).

Why are origin stories so powerful?

‘originating events … or memories that affirm and reinforce an ongoing interest’ – McAdams, 2001

First memories and stories are powerful. Memories become stronger when we share them and tell others about them. By telling you about that connection, you are reinforcing the story and identity with the donor. Reinforcing these memories triggers warm and positive feelings about the charity and builds loyalty and creates a stronger bond with that charity (Merchant and Ford, 2008).

The more we talk about our memories the stronger they become. They become part of our established narrative about ourselves and our identity. By giving supporters the chance to reflect and talk about their origin story you are cementing their identity as a supporter of your cause. Nostalgia, which often is viewed as a negative emotion harking back to a past that no longer exists, is often a positive and warm feeling for many. Claire Routley talks about it in this article about nostalgia in legacy fundraising.

When you ask a supporter about their first connection – even if they cannot remember the exact first instance – they will share their memories and stories. This will allow them to build even more powerful connections. You are reinforcing their identity and connection with the charity, while also building up their tribal loyalty and sense of community.

Asking questions before asking for a gift primes identity and increases the likelihood of a gift. In one experiment participants were asked ways in which they would have a positive impact on future generations, before being asked to give to a conservation charity – and donations went up 50 per cent (via Russell James III cited Zaval, L., Markowitz, E. M., & Weber, E. U. (2015).)

This can be used with all types of fundraising but is particularly useful in legacy fundraising when asking supporters to connect their identity with your charity. By telling the story of your life – you create your own autobiography and life narrative.

When someone thinks about legacy gifts while in a fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scanner, the bits of the brain that are activated are the precuneus and lingual gyrus – the areas of the brain associated with autobiographical memory. The data indicates that thinking about bequests is ‘analogous to visualising the final chapter in one’s autobiography’(James and O’Boyle). This links to the theory of symbolic immortality (Routley, 2011) and how a legacy gift shows how the deceased wishes to be remembered and described.

Russell James III says, ‘The “one big thing” in fundraising is always the same: Advance the donor’s hero story.’

By connecting your donor to their hero origin story you will help them advance their hero story. So, it doesn’t matter whether they are a Batman, a Spiderman or a Superman – sharing their origin story will draw them closer to your charity.

IMAGES: © Canva

Editor’s note: This blog and its images originally appeared on Marina’s website, and SOFII is very grateful to her for allowing us to reproduce it for you, here.

About the author: Marina Jones

Marina Jones

Marina Jones (she/her) is deputy development director at the English National Opera (ENO) and has over 20+ years’ experience in fundraising. Before joining ENO in early 2022, Marina spent 13 years at the Royal Opera House working on campaigns, supporter engagement, legacies and trusts and foundations. She also worked at Polka Theatre, the Lyric Hammersmith and the Orange Tree Theatre. Marina leads Rogare’s History of Fundraising project and is also Trustee of Tunbridge Wells Puppetry Festival and Pusey House. She completed an MA with Distinction in Philanthropic Studies with a dissertation on legacy giving. Marina is a keen behavioural scientist experimenting and writing on how to use decision science in fundraising.

You can read more of Marina’s thoughts and insights on fundraising, philanthropy, arts and culture by visiting her website at

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