The Nonprofit Marketing Blog

Storytelling: The First Best Thing

Storytelling is the single most powerful communications tool you have available, bar none. But many good causes tend to have problems telling good stories even though people have been communicating through stories for thousands of years.

So, what makes narrative so powerful?

Stories help us remember. When you have facts you want people to remember, it’s much more likely they will be remembered if you contain those facts within a story.

Stories influence how we decide. In 1990 a study was done on how people on juries came to conclusions. According to the study, most construct a story based on the facts offered in the case. Then they compared the stories they constructed with the stories the lawyers presented. The jurist would side with whomever’s story matched their own the closest.

Stories are linked with our sense of generosity. Studies also show that donors tend to give twice as much when presented with a story about an affected individual as opposed to reading huge abstract numbers of the overall scope of a problem.

Hopefully, you realize your organization should be telling stories. So how do you write one? What is the structure of a well-told story?

Earliest myths and fables gave us the basic classic story structure. First off, who’s it about? You need a Protagonist. Your organization is NOT the protagonist. It is always a person.  We need someone to relate to. Then you need an Inciting Incident. Something must happen that kicks the story into motion. Then there is a Goal. Someone wants something. But there has to be a Barrier that keeps the hero from getting to the goal right away or else it’s not very compelling. Finally, we have the Resolution. Did our hero win or lose?

To make sure you cover all of the basics of story structure here are the beginnings of 7 sentences that can help you with the process.

  • Once upon a time… (This starts the story off and introduces our protagonist)
  • And every day… (This will set up how life was before the Inciting Incident)
  • Until one day… (This begins the action of the story with the Inciting Incident and the Goal)
  • And because of this… (This introduces the barriers or obstacles the protagonist faces)
  • And because of this… (There could be several barriers)
  • Until finally…(This ends the story with the Resolution)

You have the basic components of a good story, so what kinds of stories should you tell? There are 6 categories of stories that your organization should be telling.

  • The Nature of Our Challenge Story. Why do people need your services? What are you trying to do?
  • How We Started Story. This is your cause’s creation story. Why was your organization founded?
  • The Emblematic Success Stories. Show how you made a difference and did it in a way that is unique to your organization.
  • The Performance Stories. Share stories about your volunteers and staff. Show them living your core values.
  • Striving to Improve Stories. You won’t always be successful. Explain how you learn from your mistakes.
  • Where We Are Going Stories. What will your community look like if you continue your services? What will it look like if you can’t? Create a picture of what the future will look like.

You should tell stories for everything you do – fundraising, advocacy, recruiting and public relations. Make sure everyone on staff knows these stories and can pull them out whenever necessary. Sensitize your people to look out for good stories and find a way to collect them.

In the long run, if you can tell stories that other people remember and retell then you have the world’s oldest form of social media working for you.

Adapted from a Nonprofit 911 webinar presentation. 

 

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About This Blog
Caryn Stein hi res

Caryn Stein
Vice President, Communications and Content, Network for Good

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

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