Storytelling 101


You've no doubt heard about the importance of storytelling to nonprofits. As a writer with an English Lit. degree, I love a good story, and one of the best parts about my job is uncovering those stories and sharing them with my clients' donors.

But what makes a good story? And how do you tell your story in a way that moves your donors to give?

A Story Has a Destination

A story can be as simple as "I went to the store. I bought three grapefruit. I returned home." But how inspiring is that?

You want your story to arc from the kernel that starts it all, through the challenges in the middle, to a satisfying resolution. Once you've written your story, you should be able to point to each section and see how the details you've chosen propel the reader forward.

Your story should always arrive somewhere. Most of the time, this destination will be different from the place you started, but sometimes you'll end up in the same place you began. Either way is fine, but there must be some destination.

A Story Has Significance

When you arrive at your story's destination, it means something. A lesson was learned, a decision was made, an epiphany occurred -- something about your destination offers your audience some true, deep knowledge they didn't have at the beginning.

For most nonprofit organizations, the stories will often be about how your work helped a person. So when you're telling that story, think about how your work impacted that person's life. What would have happened without your intervention? How were minds and hearts opened? Ask your reader to imagine what would happen if this story were repeated with other people.

What does it mean that your organization exists?

A Story Helps Us Understand Our World

Since the beginning of time, people have been telling stories as a way of explaining the unexplainable in our world. You can harness this power in your own storytelling.

One good story explains who your organization is helping, what innovative tools you're using, why your organization's mission is important, how you're using your resources to make a difference, and how your donors can help. A well crafted story will give your donors everything they need to understand why they should give to you.

A Story Helps Create Community

Doubt the power of a good story to unite us? Consider the Twilight phenomenon.

When you knock it out of the park, your story will get read and passed will get noticed. And those who notice it will have that bond that comes from shared experience and understanding. Telling the stories of the work you do to your donors is one of the most effective ways to connect your donors to your organization and keep them giving for years to come.

Stories have power, and the better you learn to tell them the more power you'll have.

Check out the Mercy Corps blog for great examples of nonprofit storytelling. And if you want more on the art of storytelling, I loved this article from Jane Friedman's blog.