The Nonprofit Marketing Blog

5 Elements of a Good Story

Choosing the correct form of communication (one-way, two-way or storytelling) could greatly affect the results you are seeking, whether it’s coverage in the media, an increase in donations or the acquisition of more supporters.

The “old-school” form of marketing is one-way communication. That encompasses advertisements, or perhaps a PSA on the radio. You send out your message and hope people see it or listen to it. The second form, which is becoming increasingly popular is conversational marketing. Maybe you have a blog on your website and you allow visitors to comment on it and respond to each other. This allows your audience to become more involved, although you in turn lose control over your message; other people now help create it.

Finally, you have the third form, storytelling. Storytelling is special because it shares an experience with your audience. You can inject your story — and in turn, your audience — with emotions and compelling imagery that enables them to connect to you much better.

As a nonprofit trying to get your name and cause out into the world while connecting with potential supporters, storytelling is an extremely powerful tool. Here are the five elements you’ll need to construct a good story, from Robert Dickman and Richard Maxwell, authors of the book, The Elements of Persuasion:


    1. Passion:  This should be the easy one, as nonprofit workers you all should have passion for your mission. The more passionate the storyteller is, the more authentic they same and the more compelling their story becomes.


    1. A protagonist: There needs to be a hero or protagonist in your story; somebody who can be respected and related to. This person, community or group engages as your audience as they want to see what happens to them and learn more about them.


    1. An antagonist:  If there is nothing at stake, there is no story. What is the hero up against? There doesn’t need to be some super villain; think poverty in the community or lack of education.


    1. Awareness: What’s the “Aha!” moment in your story? A moment where people learn or realize something they otherwise wouldn’t have. Did the hero learn something? What was the meaning behind the story?


  1. Transformation:  What has changed throughout the length of the story? Think about the impact, what is different and what has changed as a result of the story you are telling. Again, you don’t need to thwart some mythical villain and restore order to the universe; a personal success or any little change can be very moving.


Source: Adapted by Jake Emen from Katya Andresen’s and Macon Morehouse’s Nonprofit 911 Presentation “How to Tell your Story”

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About This Blog

Carrie Saracini
Content Marketing Manager

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

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