The Nonprofit Marketing Blog

The 5 Cs of Great Nonprofit Storytelling

Crafting a fundraising campaign that tells a story about your organization’s mission or successes is a super-effective way to make emotional connections with your donors. But what goes into writing an email that tells a great nonprofit story? Five things, to be exact. Conveniently, they all start with C:

  1. Core message
  2. Connection
  3. Character
  4. Conflict
  5. Call to action

Core message: The core message is that one thing we want people to remember after hearing our story. When developing a story for your email fundraising, ask yourself these three questions: What do I want donors to think? What do I want them to feel? What do I want them to do?

The answers will help you uncover your core message and how to structure your email campaign. They’ll guide you through the logical and emotional sides of creating your story and engaging donors with the copy.

Connection: This relates to the emotional pull and the element of authenticity. This often happens in the salutation and the first sentence of our email, where we’re trying to hook in our reader and get them to stick with us through the end. Personalization—for example, using a donor’s first name in the salutation (“Dear Sarah”)—is a great way to build a connection.

Character: This is often the person writing or sending the email or the person whose story is being told. It might be a monthly donor talking about why she was moved to offer ongoing support, or a mother talking about finding work and feeding her kids thanks to receiving help from your program. It could even be the story of a shelter dog finding a forever home. The sky’s the limit.

Conflict: This element is crucial in fundraising. Conflict is the situation that creates a sense of urgency, which gets people to respond to your call to action and help you resolve the conflict. “These villagers have to walk five miles a day for fresh water. Donate now to build a new well.” You can see how those two things—conflict and call to action—are pretty clearly intertwined.

Call to action: In broad terms, call to action is the thing you want people to do and how they can get involved with your organization. A good call to action is very specific and active: Click here to donate. Click here to sign this petition. Donate today. You can imagine doing these things, can’t you? These are very active, very affirmative phrases that can motivate people to follow through.

For our story to be successful, we have to give our audience a clear, direct, and—most important—easy way to become part of your organization’s story. Your call to action is just that.

Beware: Call to action is where a lot of nonprofits trip up with email. The directive often becomes muddled, confusing, and unclear. Maybe it’s not easy to sign your petition. A surprising number of nonprofit’s emails don’t include a donate button. Or there’s no obvious hyperlink, which makes it difficult for donors to click through and do what you’re asking them to do. Make sure you’re call to action is clear, direct, and easy to follow through.

There many ways to tell a story, but the most effective stories—including those we tell in our fundraising emails—contain these “five Cs.” Be sure to incorporate them into your nonprofit storytelling efforts and watch how they help you reach your email fundraising goals.

Adapted from Nonprofit911: Telling Stories Through Email, with Vanessa Chase, founder of the Storytelling Non-Profit.

Telling Stories Through Email

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About This Blog

Connie Poulos
Senior Associate, Copywriter

We’re here to help you win hearts and minds—and donations.

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