6 Nonprofit Story Types to Tell:

There’s so much content around on storytelling, lots of its focused on why stories are so effective.

But there’s far less guidance on helping you know what your story possibilities are, and building your skills in shaping and sharing your stories. That’s what most of you said you wanted to know to become 5-star storytellers, and that’s the focus of this article.

Storytelling starts with finding the stories your organization already has. But, most of you tell me you don’t know where to find your stories. Here’s how..
Great news here—there are 6 types of stories you can tell, and you’re likely to find all of them in your organization. So start thinking about what stories you have to tell in each of these categories:
  1. Our Founding: How your organization was created
  2. Our Focus: The core challenge you tackle
  3. Impact Stories: This most-told nonprofit story features the before and after—shows impact of your organization and supporters
  4. Our People: Donor, staff, volunteer, client/participant profiles
  5. Strength Stories: How your particular approach adds value to the services you provide, and moves your mission forward
  6. Our Future: The change you want to make in the world or what your work will lead to.

#1: The Typical Nonprofit Founding Story

Is yours as deadly as this one? Because you have all the ingredients to make it far more effective.

Typical Founding Story

This is the kind of founding story I see most often from nonprofits like yours. So there’s a good possibility that yours is just as passionless, removed and absolutely unmemorable as this one. The great news is that it’s you have the content and the talent to do so much better, and it’s totally doable!

Kaboom’s Meaningful, Memorable Founding Story
Your org’s founding story can be as moving and motivating as this one!

Your founding story can be just as wow, easy-to-relate-to, moving, get-off-your-butt-and-do-something founding story from Kaboom!

4 steps to power up your organization’s founding story:

  1. Focus on the founder(s) and what motivated them to start the organization. Get personal, as if she was telling you the why at a party or on a car ride. If that info isn’t at hand, ask relatives, long-time employees and colleagues, research your heart out.
  2. Drill down into the personal side of that act—did she have a friend with cancer, come from a country that was long in civil war or…? Make the motivation genuine and relatable to your prospects’ experience and point of view.
  3. Show how that driver clarified her understanding of a problem and possible solution, and the start-up of an organization to help solve it.
  4. Emphasize each step in the process as in Darell’s story: He moves from a family-bred sense of civic responsibility, to digesting a tragic news story, to acting on those two things by forming City Year Chicago which led to done-in-a-day playground-focused Kaboom!

When done right, your founding story has the potential to motivate people like you and me to give, volunteer, sign petitions and participate in programs. Do it today!

What’s your founding story like?

This is so vital in connecting your work and impact with what matters to your prospects and supporters, so make sure to do it right.

Warning: Telling a good focus story is particularly challenging (and especially important vital) for policy organizations, intermediary organizations (e.g. community foundations, United Ways, nonprofit support orgs and others that help nonprofits do their work better and more broadly) and really, for most organizations that don’t provide direct services. Here’s how to do it well.

The Typical Nonprofit Focus Story
Is your focus story as inaccessible (and boring, let’s just say it) as this one?
Many are, especially for the organizations that need strong focus stories to clarify what they do and why folks should care.

 Nonprofit Storytelling Don't

 What? I don’t even understand this. It makes me tired.

This is the kind of focus story I see most often from the nonprofits that need a good one most! So it’s likely yours is just as inaccessible, boring and totally forgettable as this one. The great news is that it’s you have the content and the talent to do so much better, and it’s totally doable!

#2 – Focus Stories—Connecting the Dots Between Your Work and Your Beneficiaries

Your org’s focus story can be as compelling, moving and motivating as these two! Visuals are a great help.

Nonprofit Storytelling Do

findley-smaller

3 steps to power up your organization’s focus story:

  1. Connect the dots between your organization work and impact and your ultimate beneficiaries, even if there are layers in between.
  2. Get detailed and personal, as if you’re telling his or her story to someone who knows nothing about it. The details are what’s relatable, and make your story memorable and more likely to be repeated.
  3. Include visuals if at all possible—they really can be worth 1,000 words!

When done right, your focus story has the potential to motivate people like you and me to give, volunteer, sign petitions and participate in programs. Do it today!

What’s your focus story like?

#3 – Success (a.k.a impact) Stories—

Success stories (a.k.a. impact stories) are the stories most frequently told. And, when done right, these stories are unequaled in showing the value of your organization’s work in moving your issue or cause forward and matching the personal goals of prospects and supporters. 

The great thing is that you have many of these success stories to tell, and the potential for using them to move your people to the actions you want is huge. So invest the time and effort it takes to do them right.


Showing the Before and After in a Memorable Way

Features a call to action!

Exploring-The-arts


5 Steps to Strengthen Your Success Stories
Your org’s impact stories will be as compelling, moving and motivating as these two when you follow these steps:

  1. Focus on the difference your organization’s work makes in the life of someone (keep it to a single person or a family in each story if you can).
  2. Outline the before and the after in an emotional way.
  3. Dig into the details—they allow the reader or listener to feel your story, not just process it. What’s felt is much more likely to be remembered and acted on.
  4. Testimonials, with a face and name if possible, are the ideal format here.
  5. Close with a call to action, like the top example here!

You already have these stories on hand. And if you don’t have the details and permissions that will make them even stronger, go back and get those elements for recent stories, and start collecting proactively going forward.

When done right, your impact stories have the potential to motivate people like you and me to give, volunteer, sign petitions and participate in programs.

How are you shaping and sharing your success stories?

#4: People Stories

People stories are hugely valuable in moving people to take the actions you want. Craft these stories to make it easy for your prospective donors, partners and more to stand in the shoes of your current supporters, and they’re golden.

Remember, you have many of these people stories to tell, and the potential for using them to move your people to the actions you want is huge. Here’s how to develop them most powerfully:

People Stories—
They make it easy for your prospects to see themselves in these peoples’ shoes

Donor Story

Coalition for the Homeless


5 Steps to Strengthen Your People Stories

Your org’s people stories will be as compelling, moving and motivating as these two when you follow these steps:

  1. Feature people that mirror people taking each type of action your org wants to motivate—donors, partners, board members, volunteers and more.
  2. Build out each profile to show why act, digging deep into personal reasons that are relatable to others. Just take a look at the stories above:
    • All of us have had loved ones become ill, and felt the love, concern and fear that Jackie Montag did when her son fell ill.
    • Most of us have never been homeless, but every single one of us knows what it’s like to feel all alone and not know where to turn.
  3. Don’t feature stories that are too unusual—there has to be a point of connection or others won’t be able to see themselves in that story (your goal).
  4. Fill your people stories with specifics—they spent the holidays living in their car. Details allow the reader or listener to feel your story, not just process it. What’s felt is much more likely to be remembered and acted on.
  5. Testimonials, with a face and name if possible, are the ideal format here.
  6. Close with a call to action, like the top example here!

You already have these stories on hand. And if you don’t have the details and permissions that will make them even stronger, go back and get those elements for recent stories, and start collecting proactively going forward.

#5: Strength Stories

Strength stories showcase how your organization’s particular focus or approach adds value to the community you serve and/or and moves your issue or cause forward in a way unmatched by other orgs (a.k.a. differentiation).  

Guru-of-most-things Seth Godin recently summed up the value of differentiation: If there’s not at least one thing that’s distinctive about your organization—OR if you have that unique strength but don’t highlight it—you’re toast. Prospects will think you’re just like every other nonprofit, and that’s death to us marketers and fundraisers.

Instead, dig deep to articulate your organization’s greatest strengths. Stay real—false claims will simply undermine your brand. Focus on the one that’s most valuable and unique—it’ll be more of a magnet—then find a story that shows that strength, just like The Arms Forces does here:

Strength story
Kudos to the folks at Arms Forces for sharing such a simple and succinct story that’s genuine, touching and memorable. They took their strength (staff and volunteers value and practice respect, listening, empathy and compassion) and illustrate it in a way that’s concrete and genuine—“you listened, you reached out, you got me and you got my son.”

I get what’s special about The Arms Forces, and I bet you do too. I came across this story months ago, while preparing for a storytelling training, and it’s been on my mind ever since. Because although I’ve never been a soldier, I have been in a tough situation and felt huge relief when someone finally understood.

When done right, your strength story is a powerful influencer in your prospects’ decision join forces with your organization. Shape it, share it and see what happens next.

#6: Future Stories

Future stories (a.k.a. vision statements) can be very powerful but are rarely told. Future story power comes in bringing to life—in a tangible, visible, visual and personal way—what is most frequently left as a vague, abstract and overly-wordy concept (if your organization even has a vision statement at all).

When done right, future stories have perhaps the greatest potential of all story types to hook your people at a gut level and motivate them to take the actions you need because you’re putting your dreams out there making it easy for them to link their dreams to yours! 

The great thing is that every one of your organizations has a future story ready to be shaped into a powerful movement-building tool, whether you have articulated a vision statement or not. So do it!

Here’s one of the best future stories I know:

Future Story

Most of you already have a vision statement on hand.

If you do, review it carefully before creating a story from it. You want to make sure it’s accurate and relevant. Then find a story or two that illustrates it.

If you don’t, go to it. Your vision statement will lead your team and your supporters to tackle your cause or issue with greater focus, energy and heart than ever before. We all need dreams.

When done right, your future story will be a magnet for like-minded supporters. Work on it!

How Story Trumps Description:

I’m a sucker for stark contrast. It’s one of the best learning tools ever, and today I’m drawing on examples from  Mass Mentoring Partnership (MMP).

The Challenge
MMP supports and strengthens mentoring programs in Massachusetts and faces this marketing challenge common to every organization that doesn’t provide direct services:

  • How to show the org’s unique value to current and prospective:
    • Mentoring program partners—call to action (CTA) “strengthen your programor”
    • Funders—CTA “get involved”
    • Mentors—CTA “be a mentor”
  • But differentiate MMP from what mentoring programs do
  • And demonstrate how MMP helps strengthen programs and, in turn, how that growth benefits the children served by MMP partner programs.

This is a classic connect-the-dots challenge, and you’ll see in a moment how story trumps description in achieving all three goals.

MMP’s Original Approach—Purely Descriptive
Here’s how MMP was conveying its impact (and the need for its work) to prospective and current funders, mentoring programs and mentors (full-size image for easy reading here):

 MMP-Before-1

It’s no surprise that this approach wasn’t motivating target audiences to care or act.

The Solution: 5-Star Storytelling That Is Meaningful, Memorable & Motivational
How does this approach—focusing on Christina, the mentee, and backing up to connect the dots to United Way and then MMP—strike you?

MMP-story

Talk about compelling. This story strikes me hard and makes me want to 1) know more and 2) do what I can to generate more success stories like this. Same for you?

Your Takeaway—A Good Story Trumps Description Every Time
If you take away just one thing from this post, make it this—You want your listener to take action because they want to—not because they’ve been told to.
When you craft your stories to ensure listeners to connect your info with what they already know (test it), you’re far more likely to build trust and rapport with them. In turn, this group relationship is most likely to be transformative, motivating their desire to take action, now and in the future, and to spread your stories/messages to friends and family.