6 Nonprofit Storytelling Tips to Make Your Mission Compelling

Paint a clear picture of your nonprofit’s important work to better connect with supporters and donors.

Paint a clear picture of your nonprofit’s important work to better connect with supporters and donors. 

Nonprofit storytelling is critically important. See for yourself:

Two billion people in the developing world live in extreme poverty without access to adequate food, water, or healthcare. MAP International has worked tirelessly on their Christian mission to provide medicine and health supplies for those in need. Over the years, about 40,000 donors have helped progress their mission to bring live-saving medicine to vulnerable populations. MAP International invites donors to join their cause and help bring medicine and health supplies and a better quality of life to those living in poverty. 

How did that paragraph make you feel? Inspired, saddened, eager to donate? By creating a narrative for MAP International, the audience understands the organization’s mission, the impact of donor contributions, and the emotional pull of helping those in need. 

But without effective nonprofit storytelling techniques, MAP International’s mission instead might sound like this: 

People in the developing world live in poverty and don’t have access to supplies. MAP International provides those supplies to the people in need. We raise money to help us provide supplies. Would you want to help us? 

This version is dry, leaves out important details, and does very little to inspire donors to give. If supporters don’t know who they’re giving to, why it’s necessary, or what work will be done with their money, they are unlikely to contribute or even pay attention to your cause. 

This is why painting a picture of your nonprofit’s critical work helps bridge the gaps between donors taking note of your work, understanding its importance, and then feeling inspired to give. 

Develop your Nonprofit’s story today

What is nonprofit storytelling? 

Nonprofit storytelling uses stories and details from your organization’s work to convey your nonprofit’s mission and values through real-life examples. Storytelling is critical to establish your brand values, humanize your nonprofit, and captivate potential donors. Appealing emotionally and logically to your potential supporters through stories can help them understand the impact of your mission on a human level.

Six Tips for of Nonprofit Storytelling

Every nonprofit can benefit from storytelling, but it can be especially helpful to support new initiatives or during a push for growth. Big accomplishments are worth celebrating and can be great starting points to retell your overarching story. 

Just as there are different levels of donors in the stewardship matrix, there are different levels of storytelling for each one. Potential donors may require more overarching, big idea type of details while major donors will want to learn how their money is put to work. Consider which segment of your donor population needs the most stewarding, and start there. 

Here are 6 simple tips you can take to establish a story for your nonprofit, and inspire your donors.

Identify Your Characters 

Identify Your Setting 

Identify Your Audience 

Identify Your Themes

Include Detailed Examples 

Create a Call to Action 

Creating and managing a nonprofit is difficult enough on its own, but learning how to inspire your audience and gain donor support is what will keep your mission alive. Let’s dive into these 6 steps to nonprofit storytelling.

1. Identify Your Characters

Consider why your nonprofit was founded in the first place. Is there a community need not being met? Are there people in danger or without resources? To identify your characters you need to determine who is being helped by your nonprofit. 

People relate to people. It can be difficult for donors to empathize with your mission if they cannot conjure an image in their mind of the work being done or who is receiving help. You can either talk to real constituents being helped, or create characters/use pseudonyms and stock images based off of their experiences if privacy is of concern. 

For example, if your nonprofit works with cancer patients to fund their medical journeys, you can interview several of the current patients being helped. Ask about their lives prior to your aid. Did they have a payment plan? How did they find your organization? How do they feel about your support? What is a day in their life like? 

These questions can help you describe who is being helped by your organization to humanize your efforts. Focus on the people of the story and place the audience in their shoes. One way of doing this is a day-in-the-life type story, using imagery of constituents, or creating videos of your work in action. 

2. Identify your setting 

Every good story needs a setting to ground it in reality. Whether it’s where your supporters rally, where your volunteers work, or where your constituents require assistance, there needs to be a backdrop for your story. 

If your nonprofit works in hospitals, name a few of the locations you commonly work with. Your work has to take place somewhere, and this is a good opportunity for you to describe the community or area you’re working with to make improvements. 

Your characters or constituents are also living, breathing people, so describing the environment they live in can help you create a more full picture of their lives. It can help demonstrate that you’re helping them holistically as opposed to just inside the vacuum of occasional volunteer days or one financial contribution.  

Identify your audience

Consider who you are appealing to with your nonprofit storytelling. Depending on their understanding or previous level of involvement with your organization, some audience members may require more or less detail for a fuller picture. 

If your support base is mostly made up of adults with children, they will likely respond emotionally to stories about your work with children. In a similar vein, people late in their careers may be considering making a major contribution. By talking about the exact on-the-ground impact of donations, you can appeal to their logical side of wanting to make a good investment with their gift. 

Just as there are different levels of donors in the stewardship matrix, there are different depths of storytelling necessary for each one. Potential donors may require more background information about your organization, while major donors will want to learn about the tangible ways their money is put to work. 

Consider different segments of your supporter base and how you might shape stories that appeal to each audience when asking for a donation: 

Volunteers will be familiar with how your organization works, so focus on the impact financial gifts can have on the mission they’re familiar with.

Potential donors may be interested in giving but are unfamiliar with your nonprofit’s mission. Use stories about who you’re helping and how.

New donors will be excited about their involvement, so focus on how funding is used to further the mission. To make them feel involved, you can describe the impact of their first gift, like many people were helped or how many items were purchased for others.

Recurring donors will be familiar with your organization, so it’s important to introduce them to any new programs or initiatives you’ve launched.

Major donors have made large contributions and will be eager to see if their investments have paid off. Focus these stories on large achievements made and future plans of expansion.

The audience for your story will largely depend on the goal of your outreach. Once you’ve considered what segment of your donor population you need to reach out to, you can begin crafting a story tailored to their interests and motivations. 

Identify your Themes

Consider what you want your audience to gain from your story. Is it empathy? Understanding? Identify the morals and values your nonprofit champions to find themes for your storytelling. Look to your nonprofit’s mission statement and core values to determine which of those should be integrated into your story. 

Here are a few common core values to consider embedding in your storytelling: 

Compassion. Demonstrate this with imagery or stories of kindness between staff/volunteers and those being helped.

Diversity. Hire a team with diverse experiences and perspectives, and be sure your outreach reflects your value of diversity.

Integrity. Be open and honest with donors and supporters about how your money is raised, how it’s being used, and who it’s helping.

Optimism. While there is a need for your nonprofit you’ll need to remain positive in messages to show enthusiasm and determination to make a change.

Your nonprofit’s storytelling should be well rounded so that your stories encapsulate several of your core values and can inspire different segments of your support network. Finding themes for your nonprofit stories can also help you guide donors into their next action.

Use Detailed Examples

To appeal to your audience in truly compelling ways, you’ll need to add details from your work to your nonprofit storytelling. Describe the characters and setting to place the audience into the scene. 

You might offer details through: 

Interviews with constituents and staff members that put a face to your nonprofit’s mission. Write articles or make videos with these individuals speaking about your organization’s work.

Images and videos that showcase your volunteers and staff out in the field for your mission. For example, if your organization brings medicine and clinicians to impoverished areas, show imagery of volunteers at work.

Numbers and statistics that put your work into tangible means. For instance, put a number to how many people you’ve helped in a set period of time, or the number of buildings built for a community.

Emotional and logical appeals elicit many different responses. Consider your goal, your audience, and the types of details that will be most effective at conveying your nonprofit’s hard work in a compelling, engaging way. 

Create a Call to Action

At the end of every story supporters will be left with new understanding that can be funneled into action. The goal is to take this new inspiration and translate it into a next action of involvement with your nonprofit. 

If you’re telling a story to volunteers or potential donors, you can encourage them to help your organization by contributing their time or money. Some of your stories can also be used to motivate supporters to sign up for your newsletters for more in-depth information about your nonprofit. 

Donors are the foundation of nonprofit success, but every call to action you send cannot be a solicitation for funding. Try to relate your call to action to the audience, theme, and examples you’ve used in your story. 

If you’re discussing how impactful a recent fundraising event was, it may not make sense to request more donations from new donors. Because you’re reaching out to new donors and describing their impactful contributions, you could encourage them to register for volunteer shifts or to sign up for your email newsletter and annual reports. 

Wrapping Up: 

Now that you’ve learned the basics of nonprofit marketing, you have the tools you need to develop strong marketing materials to inform and engage donors. 

Developing in-depth nonprofit storytelling can be a large undertaking, so whether you’re choosing to create materials on your own or hiring nonprofit professionals, be sure to keep focused on your mission. 

It can be difficult to know where to start, so we’ve gathered more resources to accompany your journey into nonprofit storytelling for your organization: 

Nonprofit Marketing: Ultimate Guide and Best Practices. Connect your newfound nonprofit storytelling skills to marketing for your organization. 

The Stewardship Matrix: Creating a Plan for Donor Retention. Looking to engage an already steady stream of donors? Learn how to retain donors. 

Donor Acquisition: The Complete Guide to Attracting New Donors. Learn how to attract potential donors and guide them through becoming dedicated supporters. 

The Donor Pyramid: How to Steward Mid-Level Donors. Explore how to guide donors up the donor pyramid with nonprofit storytelling.

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