Why you should leave the organization out of your nonprofit storytelling


“Those who tell the stories rule society.”
― Plato

Nonprofit storytelling isn’t about your organization or how great it is, it’s about your cause. As a donor, I don’t care how long your Executive Director has been in the nonprofit field, what big names are on your board or even how much money you were able to raise last year. I care about the cause and how and who it helped. I care that you are making a difference, I want to hear those stories before I give you my money… because that is what donors care about. Whether it’s a video, blog, press release or phone call get your donor with a great story about the cause.

Know your Donor. Who is your Audience, what is your Intent, and what is your Message? You should have a handful of stories at the ready and understand that not all donors motivations are the same. Find the story that fits the donor’s interests.

Focus your stories on a character. Give your stories some personality by centering it around on character. This makes your cause more real and elicits more sympathy from potential donors. A character gives your potential donors someone to relate to, root for and ultimately care about.

Every good story has a character and every good character is facing some sort adversity. Good news for nonprofits, most organizations are fighting against some kind of adversity like cancer, homelessness, addiction or neglect to name a few.

Unfortunately, adversity isn’t enough by itself. Your story needs conflict. Your character needs to want, or have to face that adversity and make a change. Without that conflict you only have a character and a problem not a story.

Now that you have your character, adversity and conflict it’s time to tell the story of how your organization stepped in and resolved the problem. End with impact. Continue the story past the resolution, give your listeners and update on what the character as accomplished since. Talk about other characters that have also benefited from your cause.

Here is an example of a good story to tell your donors.

“John Doe is a homeless disabled military vet that suffering from PTSD. Due to his disability he cannot find steady work and often times can’t afford his medication much less a suitable home.” John is our character and homelessness is his adversity. “John has been on the streets for 2 years fighting the cold winters and hot, humid summers. He eats his meals at a local church as well as working the occasional odd job for the church’s staff and volunteers. John knows he cant spend another winter homeless.” We have now established John’s conflict. “Our organization was informed of John’s need. We found a small studio apartment near the church and through donations paid John’s rent and utilites for a year. That was 3 years ago. With the help of partnerships with other organizations, John has since gone to trade school and found gainful employement. He is in the process of purchasing his first home. Ending with impact.”

Although this is a fictional story and is laid out perfectly for the affect we want, every established and successful organization, regardless of the cause, has several stories like this to tell. It’s just a matter of telling them.