The Nonprofit Marketing Blog

How to Tell Your Nonprofit’s Story

Sometimes the trickiest part of telling your nonprofit’s story is simply getting the order right. Subplots and tangents have a way of derailing a good story and causing your audience to lose interest. But creating a compelling story arc doesn’t have to be difficult. Think back to you high school English classes. It’ll all come back to you in no time!

Rise & Fall of a Story Arc

  • Stasis—the current situation or status quo.
  • Inciting Incident—the event that forces your protagonist to take action.
  • Rising Action—the period of time between the inciting incident and the climax, when your protagonist is met with more and more obstacles.
  • Climax—the peak, or turning point, of your story; typically where your protagonist faces her or his antagonist, or greatest challenge.
  • Falling Action—following the climax, falling action ties up the loose ends of your story and leads to the resolution.
  • Resolution—the final outcome of your story, when the world establishes a new status quo, or stasis.

Stasis

Once upon a time. The beginning of any story sets up the current situation and setting. The world is in a state of equilibrium, which has yet to be disturbed. Stasis tells us where we are, what kind of world it is, and who lives here. For example, the opening lines of Romeo and Juliet tells us Shakespeare’s story is going to be about two well-known families in Verona.

“Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene”

Of course, we’ll go on to learn about the family feud and star-crossed lovers; but for now, we just need to set the scene. It can be as literal and matter-of-fact as that. Simple, right?

Inciting Incident

What forces your main character to take action? In nonprofit storytelling, an inciting incident may be the situation or event you experienced that inspired you to start your organization. It could also be the cause for launching a new program or initiative, hosting a fundraising event, or organizing a community rally. Focus on the emotional response to the experience to create a more powerful connection with your audience.

Download our Nonprofit Storytelling Mini-Guide for more insights into telling your organization’s story.

Rising Action

This is the period of time where you build the tension of your story and propel your main character forward as they attempt to reach their goal. It’s also where you introduce the obstacles that stand in your hero’s way. Don’t worry about making this overly dramatic. Everything from building community awareness of an issue to raising funds to launch your nonprofit can be part of your rising action. Make your audience care about what will happen next.

Climax

The high point, or climax, of your story is what you’ve been driving towards all along. Your hero has met obstacle after obstacle in the pursuit of their goal. The inevitable confrontation between protagonist and antagonist finally comes to a head, and either works out in favor of our main character, or ends in misfortune. Either way, your audience feels a sense of catharsis.

Falling Action

Following the climax, all of the pieces of your story are wrapped up in order to give your audience a sense of closure and accomplishment.

Resolution

We’ve now created a new status quo; a new stasis. The story has come full circle, and we enter a new state of equilibrium.

For nonprofits, the story doesn’t end here. Once you’ve shared your story with your audience, what do you want them to do? Now that you’ve captured their hearts and minds, give them a clear call to action to respond to—as a donor, volunteer, or advocate.

Download our Nonprofit Storytelling Mini-Guide for more insights into telling your organization’s story.

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About This Blog

Linda Lombardi

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

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