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The Art of Storytelling

How to Connect with Your Community Through Stories

There is nothing like a good story to get a conversation started.  Storytelling is as old as time and provides a way to emotionally connect with another person.  It is how we learn, grow, and change the world.

Using stories to share your nonprofit’s mission and impact also makes a connection.  That connection can lead to building awareness about the work that you do and the people you support. It can also make a critical connection between your donor or foundation as a strategic fundraising tool to secure funding for critical programs your nonprofit offers.

Storytelling is different from copywriting and social media posts.  It is an art that uses narratives to fire off several regions of the brain in order to fully engage someone in the process of learning more about what you do. As with any creative process, engaging it also includes a bit of science:

  • The Star – every story has a main character.  A person who has had an experience that can resonate with others.  Identify the key character in your story so people have something concrete to remember from the story.
  • The Obstacle – as will any good story, every hero faces a challenge that is then overcome leading to an impactful outcome. Whether it be economic, social, or otherwise, be certain to share the hurdle your character faced in their journey.

  • The Action – At this point in the story, share how donors, volunteers, and staff collaborate to support the character to pursue a new future.

  • The Happy Ending – Showcase how all participants helped change a life and convey there are ample opportunities to have the same positive impact on others who are navigating similar life experiences.

What donors are also looking for is social proof that your nonprofit is using their investments efficiently and wisely.  Your story can also showcase that important transparency. According to a report by Sage Intacct, 70% of donors cite ‘overall efficiency’ as the number one element supporters are looking for before they will donate to a nonprofit. Simply put, they want to know that the money they give you is well spent.

Typically, stories will be about your program participants and this poses some ethical questions about using a person’s struggles to raise money. One approach is to not tell the story for them but have them share it. Focus on how the person used your services to make change happen, not how your nonprofit helped them. 

Stories also communicate your mission and impact.  If that is not clear, donors will not support your programs. They want to know your priorities in bringing your mission to life and how that effort has progressed. The use of images to convey your narrative is critical.  Ensure your website and social media channels hold images that reflect your mission. This is part of your branding strategy. 

It is also important to understand how different age groups like to receive stories.  For example, in the report by Sage Intacct, it was found that Baby Boomers and Generation X were responsible for two thirds of donations that were made.  Each group has different expectations when it comes to methods of sharing your stories.  For example, according to the Entrepreneur Europe article, Gen Xers prefer informal and flexible communications but appreciate professional etiquette. They often use email, phone, text, or social media (particularly Facebook). Boomers prefer face-to-face communications. The report also noted the important value of a website as it serves as the most important fundraising tool at your disposal.

Here is a list of a few books about the art of storytelling that may be excellent resources:

The Power of Storytelling: The Art of Influential Communication by Ty Bennett

“In The Power of Storytelling, Ty breaks down the mindset, the skillset and the toolset of influential communication. This is a deep-dive into storytelling – that gives you the step by step formulas and tangible tools to craft and deliver effective stories.”

Storytelling for Grantseekers: A Guide to Creative Nonprofit Fundraising by Cheryl A. Clark

“This book walks readers through all the main phases of the proposal, highlighting the creative elements that link components to each other and unify the entire proposal. The book contains resources on crafting an effective synopsis, overcoming grant writer’s block, packaging the story, and the best ways to approach the “short stories” (inquiry and cover letters) that support the larger proposal.”

Storytelling: The Secret Sauce of Fundraising Success by Lynn Malzone Ierardi

“Great stories engage donors and raise more money. Scientific evidence confirms good storytelling is one of the most powerful ways to engage stakeholders and influence behavior. Stories raise awareness, change behavior, and trigger generosity. Facts and logic are not nearly as persuasive as a good story. Stories penetrate our natural defense systems and become more compelling and memorable. As a result, great stories can be very powerful.”

In closing, not only is storytelling a great approach to connect with new donors, it also can deepen your connection with existing donors. This is crucial as it is proven that your existing donors will continue to give to your organization. This is also an excellent opportunity to engage them by sharing their own stories about your nonprofit!  Storytelling is an age-old tool to help foster connection. By using it thoughtfully, you can build relationships with your community and expand support for your programs.


Person reading marketing book

Marketing Tips for the NonProfit: Your Website

Have you heard the expression, “Build it and they will come.”? A great line in a movie but not so much for a nonprofit.

As a nonprofit, part of the fundraising formula, volunteer recruitment strategy, and engaging program participants is to create messaging to explain the ‘why’ of your work and motivate the community to learn more about that work.

When someone comes across your website – your digital front door – there should be the following things:

  • Call to action – is it abundantly clear what you would like the visitor to do? Do you want them to donate? Purchase tickets for your annual event? Sign up for your e-newsletter?  Pick one and rotate out your CTAs on a quarterly basis.  For example, for the fourth quarter, focus on a ‘donate now’ call to action.
  • Who are you – you have about 15 seconds to capture your visitor’s attention.  What your nonprofit does in the community must be very clear.  Be sure to put your tagline or power words at the top of the screen. Your goal is to have a very low bounce rate, which is the rate people are leaving your website quickly.
  • The why – another thing that must stand out on your website is why your work is important. Be sure to create a message that emphasizes a sense of urgency to do the call to action you are using on the site.

When it comes to the tone of your messaging, you can use one of two approaches: fear-based or positive encouragement.  Determine who your audience is to figure out which tone will work best for them. The goal in this marketing is to build curiosity to learn more and get involved.

It all begins with a plan. 

As with successful effort, planning is key. This also applies to your marketing efforts.  There are several parts to the process:

  • What are your goals?
  • Who are you trying to connect with?
  • What are your main messages?
  • Which approaches will you use?
  • How effective was it?

Goals can range from what kind of content you want to publish to how frequently you want to send out a communication. Knowing your audience is very important.  As a nonprofit, you will have several and your e-newsletter should be segmented based on each type:

  • Program participants
  • Volunteers
  • Donors

By crafting messaging that is aligned with your mission but also the audience you are speaking to, keeps everything clear and organized. 

Keep in mind that you do not need to pursue all of the marketing opportunities that are available but instead, be strategic in your selection and consider where your audience most likely spends time when it comes to social media.

In closing, as important as all of these steps are, if you do not evaluate the impact of the effort, you will not know if it was time well spent and worthy of repeat activity.  Assess if your goals have been accomplished and celebrate a job well done!