Storytelling is a word we keep running into in our sector. Although it’s been a bit of a buzzword for the last few years, I think it’s safe to say that it is a communications tool that is here to stay. That’s because storytelling is the best way to connect with your audience and build great relationships with them in the process. From a fundraising perspective, it is a great way to connect donors to their impact. For clients, it’s a way to show them what your organization is able to do for them in a very tangible way.

If your organization is new to storytelling or if you are looking to finesse your technique, here are five steps to consider to tell a story that truly dazzles your nonprofit’s audience.


1. Define the End Goal

Just like with pretty much any marketing or communications project we undertake, we have to start with the end in mind. Storytelling is a tool and thus a means to an end. We are not just telling a story for the sake of telling story. Instead, start by defining your end goal. What is it that you want this story to help you achieve?

For example, let’s say that you are a social service organization who provides shelter for homeless people in the community and you have an upcoming appeal to raise money for it. Your specific goal is to raise $20,000 for the shelter. Now, in that process (the how), you’ll use a story to reach that goal.


2. Know Your Audience

This step might be the most important for storytelling. Since we have a goal – likely something that we want our audience to do – we have to know how to motivate our audience to take that action. The more we know our audience, the more likely we are to be successful at this.

Creating an audience profile can be immensely helpful. Start by considering their demographic information, history with your organization, what their needs are, etc. Your audience profile can become a living document that you refer back to and amend as you continue to learn more about your audience.


3. Create Your Core Message

You’ve set your goal and you know who you’re talking to. Now it’s time to think about what message you want to communicate. This message should be complementary to your goal in that it supports you reaching it.

If you’re struggling to create a core message, ask yourself – what is the one thing you want your reader to feel after they’ve read/watched/listened?

Let’s go back to the earlier example of the non-profit who is raising money for a shelter. They know that their audience cares about helping others and that they support many other social service organizations. There are lots of facts and stories that they could share, but when the reader finishes reading this piece they want them to feel hopeful for the people that they can help – a sense of inspiring optimism about what the future can bring.


4. Identify Your Character and Conflict

Using our goal, audience and message as guideposts, it’s time for us to find a story that will help communicate the message in a way that resonates our target audience. Begin by thinking about who the character and the conflict might be. Common nonprofit “characters” include – clients, staff, board members, volunteers, donors and community advocates.

Conflict is an important part of storytelling because it is what hooks our audience and keeps them reading to the end. It also creates empathy and an emotional connection with the audience. Furthermore, your conflict should be relevant to the core message that you are communicating. After all, we want everything to be seamlessly integrated!


5. Choose Your Medium (Wisely)

You’ve put a lot of leg work into laying the groundwork for a great story. Naturally, you want your audience to read/watch your story. As you think about pulling everything together to create the polished product, be sure to pick a medium where your target audience is. Is it email? Maybe social media? Perhaps a blog post? The decision rests in the hands of your audience. Look at your metrics to make an informed decision, then tailor your story for the medium.


This is a five step process that you can use to take the guess work out of telling your organization’s stories. Additionally, as you collect and develop stories be sure to think about ways that you can repurpose them in order to maximize the reach and impact.


Vanessa Chase
Vanessa Chase is the lead consultant at Vanessa Chase & co - a fundraising and communications strategy firm. Her goal is to help passionate nonprofit folks learn the tools and techniques to better articulate their organization’s impact in a way that translates into more money fundraised.
Vanessa Chase
Vanessa Chase
Vanessa Chase

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