3 strategies for better nonprofit storytelling

How can a nonprofit story attract attention?
Date Published
08/06/2015

A well-told story encourages investment from donors during nonprofit fundraising efforts. A narrative can catch people’s attention and keep their interest as an organization works to accomplish its goals.

Most nonprofits participate in worthy causes and can easily create empathy with an audience. The story behind successful projects or worthy recipients of a nonprofit’s resources humanizes efforts and puts a face to a cause.

Here are three suggestions to ensure the effective communication of nonprofit stories to their audiences.

1. Identify the storyteller

A story is a narrative designed to entertain, inform or otherwise engage those who hear, see or read it. The protagonist of a nonprofit’s story could be a person who benefited from nonprofit efforts or needs support from donors. The protagonist could also be a project or the organization itself.

Nonprofit Quarterly suggested organizations shouldn’t ignore the storyteller in their pursuit of sharing the main character’s plight. During important events, many different groups try to shape the story to suit their needs. Sometimes these narratives stand in contrast of one another and contain hidden bias. Also, stories need to include elements that develop a connection to the audience; the narrator needs to demonstrate personnel investment.

By inserting the storyteller’s passion and principles into a narrative, audiences gain full visibility into the reasons behind its inclusion in fundraising materials. Narrators who give personal details and communicate their hopes humanize themselves as well as the organization they represent. The person communicating the message shouldn’t claim full ownership of it, instead he or she should invite the audience to continue shaping the story.

2. Make sure you have a plot

Most successful movies, TV shows, books and plays all have one thing in common: They have plot lines that progress. Stories have a beginning, middle and end. A nonprofit’s work, however, is never done. How can you create a tale that’s full of growth and achievements without an ending? 

The key is to show how the story has changed or is capable of change. Network for Good stated transformation is an essential part of any nonprofit story. If an organization has worked on a cause for a long time, there must be moments in the narrative appeal that shows how the main character isn’t going through repetitive motions.

A good way to show accomplishment is to clearly define a conflict or antagonist. A story should illustrate what prevents the happy ending, what obstacles have to be overcome. An obstacle could be a lack of funds, an uncooperative government or need for community support. Transformation during a storyline highlights every small victory against a difficult foe.

3. Have hard facts to back it up

Never-ending isn’t synonymous with hopeless. Just because the nonprofit’s mission is ongoing doesn’t mean there aren’t clearly defined goals for success. A story should be informative as well as engaging, it should let the audience know exactly what steps should be taken for a happy ending.

Emotional appeals and striking language are great tools for effective storytelling but a nonprofit message has to be built on measurable results. The Beth Kantor blog said a nonprofit story should include precise numbers indicating what has been done in the past and what has to be achieved in the future. A story told to encourage fundraising can communicate how donor gifts were put to use in previous efforts and exactly where money will go in planned projects.

Nonprofits need to track success of operations and make results available to all members of an organization who represent the cause. A centralized nonprofit software system tracks past fundraising numbers and can create graphs and other statistical representations to support a narrative. Stories are not just spoken, they are told through actions, images and data.

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