How to Tell Strategic Nonprofit Stories That Raise Money
Storytelling has been "hot" for some time now and for good reason. Our human brains are wired for storytelling. We’re automatically open and receptive.
Contrast this to how we naturally put up our dukes to refute facts.
It’s human nature to want to be drawn into a good yarn. It’s also human nature to want to dispute data and statistics we hear. We’re a suspicious species.
So, you’d be foolish not to use this to your advantage when it comes to your nonprofit marketing and fundraising—especially if your goal is to raise money.
Storytelling is not difficult once you get the knack of it. But there’s some art and strategy to crafting a really compelling story that will grab hold of your constituents—really “stick” with them and move them to action.
Want to learn more?
Then settle in as we review four key components of great nonprofit storytelling—whether you’re telling your story in an appeal, a newsletter, a blog post, a video or on your website.
Ultimately, you’re telling the story to move people to action, right?
4 Key Components of Strategic Nonprofit Storytelling That Raises Money
1. Tell the most important story—the one that will raise the most money.
This is the unfinished story.
The one where your donor has an essential role to play.
The one where if your donor doesn’t help, all heck will break loose.
The one where if your donor does help, angels will sing.
Donors can’t resist an opportunity to be on the side of the angels.
Don’t fall into the trap of telling a completed story (i.e. Jane is fed and happy now, because our nonprofit helped her; we’re happy to report that XYZ Foundation gave us a grant to support our services; Fido now has a warm, adoptive family). If there’s nothing left for the donor to do, that’s exactly what they’ll do.
The story that will raise the most money is the one you ask your donor to join—not as a supporting character, but as the hero.
2. Always have two protagonists.
This is related to the previous strategy.
The best story is not about what your nonprofit does.
The best story is about what your donor does and how they made a beneficial impact.
The two protagonists are, therefore, your nonprofit’s beneficiary (people, animals, places, ideals you help) and, most important, your donor.
You absolutely must put your donor into the story—in the role of hero. The donor doesn’t really buy your story; they buy their own story. So, you can’t make it all about you.
Use “you” as much as possible in your writing. Use “I,” “our nonprofit,” and “we” as little as possible.
It’s not about what your nonprofit does. It’s about what the donor makes possible.
3. Before you write, do this.
Begin by thinking about why you’re writing to your reader. What is it that you want them to take away? What emotion do you want them to feel? What action do you want them to take?
Don’t just write because it’s time for your monthly newsletter.
And don’t get so wrapped up in your story’s narrative that you forget your purpose. Make sure the reason you’re writing is conveyed clearly and forcefully.
In other words, if you want to invite the donor to be the hero… ask them!
In fact, it’s best to ask multiple times to be sure your reader notices.
When writing an appeal letter, repeat your ask multiple times. Put it at the beginning, in the middle and at the end. Then repeat it in the “P.S.”
Why? People skim. You never know which part of your appeal they’re going to read.
4. Write like you would tell a story.
Begin in your mind with “once upon a time.” Have a beginning, middle and end to your narrative. Here’s the protagonist. Here’s what happened. Here are challenges that need to be overcome. Here’s what will happen if they don’t get help. Here’s the “rescue” that is needed.
A story is not an essay, grant proposal or term paper; it’s colloquial. Write like you talk.
Tell a purposeful story that begs for a happy ending. Then ask your donor to provide it. You’ll all live happily ever after.
If you like craft fairs, baseball games, art openings, vocal and guitar, and political conversation, you’ll like to hang out with Claire Axelrad. Claire, J.D., CFRE, will inspire you through her philosophy of philanthropy, not fundraising. After a 30-year development career that earned her the AFP “Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year” award, Claire left the trenches to begin her coaching/teaching practice, Clairification. Claire is also a featured expert and chief fundraising coach for Bloomerang, She’ll be your guide, so you can be your donor’s guide on their philanthropic journey. A member of the California State Bar and graduate of Princeton University, Claire currently resides in San Francisco.