Articles | Nonprofit Storytelling | Embrace Lean-Forward Storytelling—
Banish the Gobbledygook

Embrace Lean-Forward Storytelling—
Banish the Gobbledygook


Does this mission statement—names deleted to protect the guilty—remind you of the messages you use to connect with your supporters?

If so, you have some work to do.

Because instead of connecting you with your supporters (that’s the goal of all communications, right?), gobbledygook messages like this generate a huge disconnect.

Neuroscience tells us that when we don’t understand something, we feel stupid. When we feel stupid, we feel everyone else gets it, but we don’t—that something is wrong with us.

That’s an awful feeling, and we flee it as quickly as possible. So your unintelligible jargon actually pushes people away, rather than moving them to help in any way.

This Is Getting in Your Way, But…You Can Do Better

Clear messages shaped to the wants and habits of your audiences, wrapped in stories that hit the heart then head, and are easy to remember and repeat, are the most reliable path to persuasion.

Strong Stories Are Worth $1,000,000 for Your Organization

Back-of-the-napkin storyteller Dan Roam says it best—stories are a memorable way to convey the essence of our issues, impact and calls to action. Here’s why:

  1. Our mission statements rarely generate that “lean forward” moment you get in reading a great story or watching a fantastic show.
  2. Frequently, a personal story, told well and briefly, does what the mission statement cannot—makes people lean forward, so you have the opportunity to persuade them.
  3. And strong stories are easy to remember and repeat, extending your reach exponentially.

Through well-told stories, your organization:

  • Sounds experienced and expert.
  • Presents your content in a way that makes people enjoy reading it and remember it more easily.
  • Avoids overwhelming them with what’s not vital— no excess information.
  • Pulls together many independent facts and figures into an easy-to-absorb whole.
  • Shows (and not tells) your reader what you’re really delivering.
  • Makes your message more manageable.
  • Gives your audiences an easy way to understand (even visualize) and explain and rationalize their participation decision (to volunteer, to give, to serve on the board) to themselves and others.

You already have the stories, and you can build the confidence and skills to tell them effectively. Here’s how:

Four Ways to Make People Lean Forward

  1. Build you story around the time-tested story arc (think Noah’s Ark) with a:
    • Clear beginning introducing the characters and what they’re up against
    • Tense middle where the leads are sent out into the world and face the challenge head on
    • Believable and motivational resolution.
  2. Aim for the heart, so you engage your audiences at an emotional level first. Then you can share more information.
  3. Feature “stand in their shoes” characters that your supporters can easily relate to.
  4. Give story listeners/viewers a clear, reasonable and do-it-right-now way to help resolve the challenge (as a donor, citizen advocate, volunteer)

Jump in right now and craft a story that connects! Can’t wait to hear it.

What’s getting in your way of sharing great stories or, if your storytelling is going great, what helped get you started? Please share your thoughts here.

Nancy Schwartz in Nonprofit Storytelling | 1 comment

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Nancy E. Schwartz helps nonprofits succeed through effective marketing. Nancy and her team provide marketing planning and implementation services to nonprofit organizations and foundations nationwide. She is the publisher of the Getting Attention e-update and blog. For more nonprofit marketing guidance like this, subscribe to her e-update at

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