How to Create Inspiring Nonprofit Stories

How to Create Inspiring NonProfit StoriesToday, you are being introduced to an important topic for helping your nonprofit recruit and maintain donors and donor relationships, which is how to create inspiring stories behind your nonprofit.  More important, however, is the question of “What’s missing in your story?”  For which, the answer is not always an easy one, but it is a simple one.

How to capture your audience is one thing, but maintaining their attention is a different story altogether.  As Andy Goodman points out, in his interview with Bridgespan Group, good stories are always people stories.  Despite the critical importance of storytelling however, nonprofits struggle to communicate, let alone inspire action.  Motivating people to reach certain goals is a big part of every job for a nonprofit.  In order to motivate, you have to reach each person’s heart and the core to that is storytelling (Harvard Business Review, 2003).  In turn, this motivation is a primary driving factor in creating and maintaining donor and volunteer relations!


Here’s what you’re missing according to Goodman:

Who is your protagonist?  Name him or her.

What does your protagonist do?  Fix him or her in time and space.

What is the catalyst?  Create an inciting incident, something that throws his or her world out of balance.

What are the obstacles?  Describe the barriers the protagonist runs into on the way to achieving the goal.

What does he or she learn?  Celebrate achieving the goal.  If the goal wasn’t met, share lessons learned along the way.



Unite an idea with an emotion

Storytelling is about using the power of persuasion to make your story memorable.  “Cognitive psychologists describe how the human mind, in its attempt to understand and remember, assembles the bits and pieces of experience into a story, beginning with a personal desire, a life objective, and then portraying the struggle against the forces that block that desire.  Stories are how we remember; we tend to forget lists and bullet points” (Harvard Business Review).  Creating an inspiring story for a nonprofit means understanding that organization’s past, imagining what the future looks like, and envisioning how to get there.

Imagine being in front of an audience and going through the PowerPoint slides about your organization, its finances, and then ultimately a bullet point of strategic goals.  Boring!  Now, instead of that scenario, imagine that the same CEO steps on stage and starts telling a story of his mother.  His story is about how she was struck with an unknown illness and had visited doctor after doctor for months without a clear diagnosis.  Then, only after finding a support group online recollecting their stories of similar symptoms did they discover a rare, life threatening, and possibly hereditary illness.  Now you begin to understand the personal relationship this CEO has to the organization’s mission and why he is driven to raise awareness, fundraise and ultimately achieve a cure.

Can you identify the emotions evoked in the CEO’s story? What parts of the story would you change, if any? 

Assign a storyteller for your organization

Enlist supporters for your campaign and identify influencers in your nonprofit space to help move your message forward.  It’s all about getting your story heard.

Try this exercise in creativity.  It’s called “Find the storytellers.”  You’ll need a stopwatch, a notebook and a pen.

Limit yourself to 60 seconds.  In this quick minute, list as many words as you can to fill in the blank:

“People who _________ have stories to tell.”

By limiting your time, your brain will first come up with the most common solutions, but as time passes, your thinking will start to take a creative turn and over time innovate.  Remember, there is no wrong answer, just answers you may have to filter out later.  In the example below, “people who start campaigns” are the storytellers. 

 Get social with your storytelling

This is a great example of simple stories making big changes.  Nonprofit Charity:Water has tapped into their people by harnessing the power of social: social giving, social media, and social action.  By enabling users to create their own campaigns to raise awareness and fundraise, they have captured a story from every user that inspires others to do the same.  (If they can, I can mentality.)  What is compelling about their form of storytelling is the easy to digest visuals.  Note that parts of each story are implied.

What basics of a story can you identify? Which ones are implied? Can you relate easily with either of their stories? Are you inspired to act?

Screenshot taken from charity:water website's homepage.

In the struggle for your nonprofit to create inspiring stories, don’t forget the basics of storytelling.  There is no story without a hero.  There is no hero without challenges.  Your story must share important lessons.

Suggested Reading

Images via Canva and Charity:Water

Wena Lee

According to Chip R Bell, I am a mad scientist of strategy. Bravely awkward, trying to push against barriers to #innovation and #creativity. Formerly a Public Relations intern who has transitioned into the Marketing internship with YOakleyPR. Tweet me @Hellowenalee or add a comment below.

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