The Go-To Template for Mastering Nonprofit Storytelling
We rely on stories every day to make sense of the world, help us identify with (and understand) one another, and contextualize our decisions. A compelling story is an essential component of a thriving nonprofit. Without it, you’ll struggle to convince anyone of the importance of your cause, or forge the emotional connection needed to push past the reluctance of a society that has become inured to charitable appeals.
But finding that core story is easier said than done, because it presents a lot of choices. How long should it be? Do you want the tone to be formal or informal? And what about the presentation? You could get your story across through a heartfelt video, or a media-rich article, or a dedicated social media profile.
In this post, we’re going to cover how you can find your best non-profit story and most effectively persuade people to donate to your cause. Here are a few key tips:
Read through existing stories
By reading through the ‘origin stories’ of other businesses, non-profits, and even entrepreneurs, you can learn a lot about common patterns, and figure out what you, as a consumer, enjoy reading.
How you go about this is up to you. You can see how organizations have made powerful ‘impact’ pages, browse brand success stories, and read about entrepreneurs with inspirational stories. Regardless of your approach, you’ll get some interesting context that will prove valuable when you start working on your own message.
Outline your basic history and goal
This first meaningful step is the easiest: simply note down the history of your non-profit, covering everything from the moment of inception through the inevitable trials and tribulations to the state of the organization today. Try to keep things simple at this point — there’s no need to cover anything in great detail, so stick to the important events.
If you’re really unsure how to do this, you can first fill in the blanks in the following template (it’s really this straightforward):
“We formed [organization] in [year] because [reason]. Since then, we have [what you’ve achieved]. Our goal today is the same as ever: [goal].”
Don’t worry if what you have seems generic or soulless. It’s just a jumping-off point, and you’ll work on it as you go though the next sections.
Add in notable statistics
Statistics are very powerful, particularly in cases where you’re trying to communicate the importance of your cause to someone unfamiliar with it. At a minimum, you should find some affecting stats to tie into the justification of your nonprofit — the more surprising or shocking the stats, the more they will hold attention (just don’t overuse them).
Feeding America, one of the world’s largest charities, states the following on its website:“41 million people face hunger in the U.S. today — including nearly 13 million children and more than five million seniors.” This massive number leaves an immediate impact that convinces you of the value of the work being done.
“[X] in every [X] people suffer from [issue] every year. We formed [organization] in [year] to do something about this. Since then, we have [what you’ve achieved]. Our goal today is the same as ever: [goal].”
Provide and explain an achievable ‘win’ scenario
It’s entirely understandable to have an ultimate goal of eradicating the issue you’re trying to address, but it’s likely too implausible (or at least far away) to be considered worth investing in by the wider populace. People want to feel that their contributions will make tangible differences, not simply play anonymous parts in a broader effort.
Return to the goal you identified for your non-profit. What related goal can you identify that could be achieved in the near future? Perhaps you could aim for reducing the percentage of sufferers in a given area by a set amount (if that fits your goal). You don’t need to replace your goal — you can present them both. And if you can find a way to explain that a particular donation will have a specific effect, do so.
“[X] in every [X] people suffer from [issue] every year. We formed [organization] in [year] to do something about this. Since then, we have [what you’ve achieved]. Our goal today is the same as ever — [goal] — and we’re currently working to achieve [‘win’ scenario]. Every donation of [amount] gets us [amount] closer to that mark. With your help, we can get there.”
Work on the emotional elements
Your story so far might be quite affecting, or it may seem relatively dry. You need to make it as emotionally powerful as possible without being overbearing. Go to the core of why you started the organization — what did you feel? What convinced you it was worth doing?
Here are some further ways in which you can use emotion in your story:
l Give some commentary. Are your frustrated that there’s yet more work to do? Proud of what you’ve accomplished so far? Determined to do better? Add some comments throughout your story to show that you’re human and thus empathetic.
l Get philosophical. Bring up your values, speak of what people deserve, discuss what a fair society would look like. Everyone thinks about matters of morality, and if you can convince them of the value of our vision for the world, they’ll root for you to succeed.
l Provide emphasis. You can put words in bold, italicize them, underline them — there are various styling options. And then there’s the phrasing you use. If you don’t have an in-house copywriter, consult a professional (and keep checking industry blogs for tips).
l Use emotive illustrations. When charitable messages fall flat, the right photo can shock the system enough to get attention. Try a mixture of images showing the issue you’re fighting against and images showing your non-profit at work.
“[X] in every [X] people suffer from [issue] every year — something that shouldn’t be possible in today’s world. [Picture]. We formed [organization] in [year] to do something about this. Since then, we have [what you’ve achieved], and we’re proud of that, but we have so much more to do. [Picture]. Our goal today is the same as ever — [goal] — and we’re currently working to achieve [‘win’ scenario]. Every donation of [amount] gets us [amount] closer to that mark. With your help, we can get there.”
A great non-profit story is succinct, powerful, relatable, impactful, and incredibly motivational. It gets across the importance of the work being done and makes the prospective donor believe that their individual contribution will make a real difference. Try these steps for honing your story, and you’ll find your donation stats rising quickly.
If you have more questions about nonprofit strategy you can always reach out to the DipJar fundraising experts for help. It's what we love to do!
Kayleigh Alexandra is a content writer for Micro Startups — a site that donates all of its web revenue to charities supporting startups, entrepreneurs, and other worthy causes. Check out the blog for your latest dose of growth hacking news. Follow us on Twitter @getmicrostarted.