How To Tell A Great Nonprofit Story

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local volunteerStories influence people, their emotions, behaviors and actions. Stories find their way to human hearts and heads in a way that very few (if any) other communication methods can. We are hardwired to respond to stories. We tend to remember a good story way longer than we remember a fact or figure.

This is why stories can be an incredible tool for fundraising, building awareness, mobilizing volunteers, building trust and so much more. Nonprofits tend to have the “raw material” for powerful impact stories right at their fingertips – stories of perseverance, hope and new beginnings.

Stories create empathy. They work with commonality – highlighting things we all share or can relate to. This is incredibly meaningful to any organization, and especially a nonprofit one where emotions motivate charitable actions.

Here are 15 tips to take your storytelling to the next level:

Have a beginning, a middle and an end. Part of what makes a story so enticing is the structure. Make sure your story, at the very least, has these three key components:

  1. Beginning: The protagonist is placed in a context and likely has a desire or goal.
  2. Middle: In pursuing their goal, the protagonist faces challenges and takes actions
  3. End: The protagonist’s life has changed in some way. Their actions and experiences during the story have changed their situation.
  • Build characters. Characters give the audience someone to identify with, root for or root against (in case of a villain).
  • Be specific. First, help your audience understand some of the individual, emotional stories that your organization can tell; then talk about thousands you helped.
  • You can change your story. Sometimes, nonprofits inherit stories, and they feel “obliged” to keep telling them. You can change your story at any point, as long as it’s aligned to your mission.
  • Know your audience. Always ask yourself, “Who am I talking to? And how am I going to tell them this story in a way that most resonates with them?” You can tell one story from many different perspectives, with different protagonists and in different formats.
  • Avoid “salesy” language. Using salesy, clinical or industry-specific language can impede individuals from understanding, connecting and empathizing – almost defeating the purpose of storytelling.
  • Include a call to action. If you have told a good story, your audience will be motivated to give. At the end of every story, place a call to action. Make sure this call to action is relevant to the story you just told.
  • Use your website. Nonprofits often use their website to show supporters their mission. This can be strengthened by using this space to highlight detailed, individual stories as well
  • Use your blog. Compared to a website, blog posts provide more space to dive deep into the individual stories, giving your supporters a chance to learn more.
  • Use your social media. Social media tools are the perfect avenues to share stories and to get instant feedback, as well as to lead potential donors straight to your donation page.
  • Find fresh perspectives. Have the beneficiary tell the story of their life through their eyes; no one knows it better. Alternatively, consider having an employee, a contributor or a volunteer share their perspectives.
  • Use visuals. According to a study conducted by SimplyMeasured, videos are shared 12 times more often than links and text posts combined, and photos are “liked” twice as often as text updates. Consider visual mediums such as videos, photography, infographics, and even cartoons or drawings to stand out in a sea of text. Videos shot on phones can be just as, if not more, authentic.
  • Cultivate a storytelling organizational culture. Make sure your staff, board and volunteers understand how and why stories are used in fundraising. Identifying and collecting great stories should fall under everyone’s job description.
  • Communicate donor impact. You can combine storytelling with impact reporting. Tell stories that directly showcase the impact your nonprofit has had, and directly highlight how a donor’s contribution was used. This not only helps retain donors but attracts new ones since they get to see how their gift was or will be used.
  • Track and evaluate. When sharing stories, track their success: the number of clicks, likes, favorites, retweets, claps or vote ups – whatever the key performance indicators are for the channel you’re using. Evaluate your efforts, and re-plan your marketing strategy accordingly.
  • The art of your story will draw your audience into your world. And the science of storytelling will help you fundraise. Storytelling is not a goal to reach; it’s an ongoing process. But it is one that will be very worth it, transforming your nonprofit along the way.

This blog post has been condensed with permission. For the complete post, “The Ultimate Guide to Nonprofit Storytelling,” visit


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