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Just For Nonprofits: Mixing Up The Storytelling
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Just For Nonprofits: Mixing Up The Storytelling - Executive Leadership Articles

Just For Nonprofits: Mixing Up The Storytelling

Executive Leadership Articles

Just For Nonprofits: Mixing Up The Storytelling

One critical key to fundraising is connecting potential donors to your organization, helping them to see how their contributions make a difference in the lives of your clients, and few things connect real people like a good story. Stories resonate, instruct, and inspire. Stories work their way into our memories. Stories get better each time they’re retold. As you raise support for your cause, you’re constantly keeping a trained eye out for the stories that best illustrate your work, but are your stories getting lost in the sea of stories shared by other organizations? How can you present your stories so they stand out?

The basic elements of good storytelling remain the same, and you don’t want to deviate too far from the core elements, which we will explore in depth in future articles. The short version is something like this:
1. Who this story is about.
2. What this person wants.
3. What’s standing in this person’s way.
4. How your organization helps.

With few exceptions, this is the map most appeals for support seem to follow. Sometimes the path from 1 to 4 winds through different chapters, each a sub-story in the general testimony, but you can strip even the longer stories down to this basic outline, usually in this order, and it makes sense.

Because these are the critical elements in just about any story, it’s what we expect to hear. The problem is that it’s easy for stories to melt together when an audience has heard too much of essentially the same thing. One way around this is to switch up the order—don’t always open with who the story is about; open instead with what is standing in this person’s way, for example. It might look something like this:

“He’d already been admitted to Purdue University with plans for the pre-med track when his father died midway through his senior year. Overnight, long-held plans for a thoughtfully laid-out future were thrown into chaos as his mother, a part-time school nurse, and his younger brother, a sophomore in high school, struggled with the upheaval to their family. Coping with the emotional turmoil was stressful enough without even considering the financial uncertainties that seemed to make Purdue a lost dream. Andrew Young, a senior from this town, secretly made plans to attend a community college so he could work to help support his family.”

Leaping to the moment of conflict is the unexpected path, and it puts the listener right in the heart of the client’s need. Because this person’s name is mentioned at the end of the paragraph, we can lead into a paragraph explaining who this client is, then follow that with his goals, and conclude with how your organization helps him reach his goals.

Alternately, you can begin with what would normally be the conclusion. Tell us the happy outcome, then work back to the introduction and conflict. It takes a bit of writing skill to make it work, but you can tell a story like this with exactly the same elements, only arranged differently so it doesn’t sound like all the other stories. Be bold in presenting the work you do, and in highlighting the human lives your work touches, and work yourself out of that storytelling rut.


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Just For Nonprofits: Mixing Up The Storytelling - Executive Leadership Articles

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