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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.


Posted in Marketiing.