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Storytelling for Non-Profits, It’s Important!

As we get closer to our date, we want to help our nonprofit organizations succeed more than ever! Even Georgetown University has a program to teach storytelling for nonprofits! We found resources to help get our organizations ready to tell their story to donors.

First, here’s a basic list of tips for storytelling to keep your audience and gain more donors.

Nonprofit Storytelling Tips

  • Be clear and succinct. Stories are captivating, but there is a limit to human attention. …
  • Stay away from facts and figures. …
  • Have a beginning, a middle, and an end. …
  • Build characters. …
  • Be specific. …
  • You can change your story. …
  • Know your audience. …
  • Have a system in place.

from DonorBox.com

We have grabbed a few important points from this article to help you get started. Click on any of the links to DonorBox for more information as they offer a detailed storytelling guide.

Why is storytelling important?

Stories help create context, they provide meaning and purpose, help us relate and empathize.

Here is why your nonprofit should use storytelling:

1. Stories create context.

It may seem counterintuitive to start with a story when crafting a marketing strategy, but, because stories help us relate and are memorable, they can ground your nonprofit’s strategy. Storytelling is a valuable tool to help donors understand the context in which you operate by seeing the challenges your beneficiaries (or your nonprofit) are facing.

For example, a nonprofit innovating in the category of food waste may use their latest technological advancements or the results of their program to develop a fundraising pitch. However, donors response better to a story about a low-income family whose child can now afford education because they have food on the table. Stories help us see the context.

2. Stories move people to act.

People make decisions on an emotional level. Logic and data are important. However, it is fundamentally emotion, backed up by logic, that makes us move or change.

Stories create emotion in us like nothing else. In fact, without a story, there would be no emotions at all. Data can’t cause emotion unless we can connect it to a story.

Storytelling, if done well, can easily encourage people to donate – which is what every nonprofit wants to do.

3. Stories create a connection.

We are hardwired to listen to stories. When we listen to stories, we are present and engaged. Whilst we debate, judge and question facts, figures, beliefs, and opinions – we don’t do the same with stories, at least not in the moment of listening.

Stories bridge people and create empathy. They make us connect one to another. 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.

Storytelling for Nonprofits – an effective fundraising tool

Nonprofit Storytelling Tips

Here are the 30+ best tips to take your storytelling to the next level:

1. Be clear and succinct

Stories are captivating, but there is a limit to human attention. Make your story clear and succinct and focus on why your organization exists, what it hopes to accomplish, who you’re doing it for, and why should the reader/viewer care.


2. Stay away from facts and figures

This is not to say your story can’t include any facts and figures, but you shouldn’t make those the centerpiece of your story. Talking about how many tons of food you distributed or how many families you’ve helped is not a story. It can help a story, but it’s not a story. A story needs to emotionally engage and move to action. On the other hand, completely staying away from data can make your story seem like fiction.

Data comes next: “This is the story, and here are the numbers that back it up.”


3. Have a beginning, a middle, and an end

A part of what makes stories so enticing is their structure. Every good story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Make sure your story, at the very least, has these three key components.

Beginning: The protagonist is placed in a context and likely has a desire or goal.

Middle: In pursuing their goal, the protagonists faces challenges and takes actions.

End: The protagonist’s life has changed in some way. Their actions and experiences during the story have changed their situation.

Of course, this is the most basic structure and there are many modifications to it.


4. Build characters

In addition to having a beginning, a middle, and an end, perhaps the only other essential element to a story is a character. Characters give the audience something to identify with, root for, or root against (in case of a villain).

5. Be specific

People relate to people (and donate to people). Make your story about a specific person (or family or animal) to help people empathize. Make it about the plight of a single person. People are more likely to relate to a story of an abandoned dog than a statistic like “a million of dogs are abandoned annually.” Help your audience understand some of the individual, emotional stories that your organization can tell first, and then talk about thousands you helped.


6. 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.


7. Know your audience

Although stories are pretty universal and the most basic story structure generally works across cultures and backgrounds, there is still a lot of value in investing time to understand 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 the same story in many different ways. You can tell one story from many different perspectives, with different protagonists, in different formats.


8. Have a system in place

Good stories don’t just always ‘come’ to you. You have to look for them. Have a system or people in place that will systematically capture stories that you can later use. Assign someone to ask others in the nonprofit about their stories on a regular basis, or create an online form such as a Google Form or Google Document that can be filled out by anyone.

More information at Donorbox.com

Giving Tuesday has helped nonprofits with marketing as well with webinars about storytelling. Learn more about it with Vimeo!

Storytelling isn’t just a buzzword: it’s the best tool in your toolbox. At our Summit last month, @LizNgonzi shared a framework you can use to put your best foot forward as you prepare a compelling campaign for GivingTuesday: https://vimeo.com/623568724

Help yourselves find more funding, and donors through storytelling! Prepare your stories for November 30th when you are in front of your donors or on an interview on Zoom!

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