Three Questions to Ask Before Telling Your Nonprofit Story

A version of this post originally appeared in Philanthropy Front and Center-San Francisco

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“Getting information off the internet is like taking a drink from a fire hydrant”-Mitchell Kapor.

Does this quote feel familiar to any of you fundraisers? In May, we gathered nearly one hundred people from all over the U.S. by webinar in order to get answers to one of the universal fundraising questions: How do I compete with information overload and tell my organization’s story in a way that my audience will become as passionate about our mission as I am?

Cara Jones, founder of Storytellers for Good and multiple Emmy award-winning reporter, producer, and speaker, took time to give us some insight into the process of finding and telling stories that will stick. First, ask yourself these three questions:

  1. Who is your audience? Build their profile. Consider how they might already see you and what your goal is in telling them your story. Identify what different angles you’d like to present in order to influence their preconceptions of your organization. Cara emphasizes that stories are important because they have the power to challenge what we think we already know. Data and facts? Sure, those are great for reporting, but in terms of connecting with an audience, they actually have less impact than an emotional story.
  2. What is your message? Simplify! Whittle your message down to address specifics. You’ll make the most emotional impact by sticking to one person’s story, rather than your organizational story. Cara shared with the virtual audience this short video on empathy, demonstrating the importance and impact of emotional connection that the audience can identify with. You want to bring your audience to a place of their own vulnerability in order to truly understand the impact of your organization. “Aim for the heart” says Cara. If there’s no point in your story where you feel the “zing” or an “ooo” or an “ahh” or even find yourself laughing out loud…try again. Get out of the cubicle and find someone who has been directly impacted by your work, and then ask them the tough questions.
  3. What are you asking them to do? This is your call to action. In terms of traditional storytelling format (protagonist-goal-obstacle-resolution) this is your resolution. Once you’ve made your audience laugh, or cry, or both, they’ll want to do something about it! Be clear about next steps. Maybe you need volunteers, or you’re asking for donations to continue supporting or expanding the program whose story you just told, or maybe your organization’s goal is to increase awareness about a particular cause. This is your opportunity as a storyteller to offer the viewer a happy ending through their own contribution. 

For more on telling your organization's story, join Foundation Center-Atlanta on Thursday, August 20 for How to Plan Your End-of-Year Campaign. In this workshop you'll learn the components of a successful campaign and how to inspire donors through storytelling during your end-of year-campaign.