How to Use Storytelling to Engage Donors

Nonprofit storytelling is the basis of everything we do. It is how we know our personal and cultural histories, how we connect to the world around us, and how we understand each other. Story inspires, informs, and motivates us.

A story that captures the imagination and motivates your audience to take action is the foundation of your success as a nonprofit leader.

Nonprofits use storytelling on a daily basis.

You may not even be aware of how much storytelling influences your work. Everything about your nonprofit is a story—your mission statement, your organizational history, program descriptions, solicitation appeals. You tell a story on every page of your website, in every thank you letter, grant application, or press release.

Your story is what attracts people to you—and what keeps them coming back. Stories build interest, awareness, and empathy. They are the basic building blocks for reaching every goal you have. For more tips on telling your organization’s stories, download our Nonprofit Storytelling Mini-Guide.

Use your nonprofits’ stories to:

  • Make your case for change.
  • Raise money and engage donors.
  • Secure grants and sponsorship.
  • Inspire advocates, donors, board, staff, and volunteers.
  • Create an emotional connection to your work.
  • Recruit community partners to build coalitions.
  • Intrigue journalists.
  • Reframe the conversation in times of crisis.
  • Spread the word about successes.

How to makes a good story great

Stories evoke emotion, reveal conflict, inspire action, and offer resolution.

The strongest stories are simultaneously entertaining and inspiring. They make you care about those involved and keep you wanting to know what happens next. Great stories expand the way you see the world and create compassion. The key to telling any story begins with a few questions:

  • Who are you telling your story to?
  • Why are you telling it?
  • What do you want them to do?

From your nonprofit’s history to community programs to profiles of members and beneficiaries, you have great stories at your fingertips. Put a human face on your facts and statistics, and get to the heart of the matter.

Breaking Through Writer’s Block

Not sure how to start? You’re not alone. Everyone gets writer’s block. Don’t let it intimidate you. The best remedy is to simply put something down on paper. You can polish it later.

In 2012, director and Pixar storyboard artist Emma Coats shared 22 storytelling tips on Twitter, including the Pixar version of this universal story arc. Stuck on how to tell your story? Use this Mad Libs-style writing prompt to get you started.

“Once Upon a Time” Writing Prompt

Once upon a time there was ______________________. Every day, ______________________. One day ______________________. Because of that, ______________________. Because of that, ______________________. Until finally______________________.

We’d love to hear from you. Share your story with us in the comments!

And for more tips on telling your organization’s stories, download our Nonprofit Storytelling Mini-Guide.

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