9 Tips for Telling Your Nonprofit’s Story

04/20/2018 4 min read Written by Jenny Traster

A good story takes you into another world. Science has shown that the brains of people engaged in a story actually start simulating the story as reality. Audience members take on the main character’s story as their own, experiencing the same feelings, thoughts and emotions.


Stories with a solid dramatic arc are also known to produce two neurochemicals in the brain. One is the stress hormone of cortisol that increases concentration. The other is the feel-good hormone of oxytocin that’s linked to trust, social bonding and empathy.

What does this have to do with nonprofit marketing? Studies revealed that readers whose brains produced oxytocin during a story were more apt to donate to charity afterward. Emotions can generate donations, and you can generate emotions by telling your nonprofit’s story. These tips can help get you started.

1. Structure Your Story

The best stories adhere to a strict yet simple structure that has worked for everyone from Shakespeare to Stephen King.

  • The beginning: Draw readers in while introducing information
  • The middle: Focus on the story of an individual, an identifiable character to whom the audience can relate
  • The end: Wrap it up with a satisfactory ending

While your nonprofit’s story may not technically end until you’ve conquered the issues outlined in your mission, each small victory can serve as another step toward your overall goal. Instead of framing your ongoing work as an ongoing saga or tragedy, present it as an ongoing series of successes that all contribute to the triumphant whole.

2. Shape Your Narrative to Your Buyer Personas

Your story has the greatest chance of hitting its target if you know who you’re aiming for. Review the main characteristics of your buyer personas, such as their pain points, struggles, interests and concerns.

Determine what questions they would ask as well as what you want them to learn from your storytelling marketing. Understanding your audience is the first step toward creating a story that truly draws them in.

See Also: Best Practices for Creating Buyer Personas for Your Nonprofit

3. Evoke Emotion with Imagery

True, a well-crafted story can evoke emotion on its own, but there’s no reason to make the text do all the heavy lifting. Adding compelling imagery to your story can instantly increase your story’s power and impact.

Vivid images can produce an emotional connection within seconds, resonating deeply with the audience in ways text alone cannot. Align the right images with your mission and story and you’re creating a potent nonprofit marketing tool.

4. Add Power with Videos

Like images, videos can tell a story rather quickly without making audience members rely solely on their imagination. Videos likewise provide sights and sounds that can help show your audience what it’s actually like to be inside your story. Pay attention to all aspects of your video, from the voice-over to the footage, the message to the music. Then bring them all together to form a cohesive whole.

See Also: Nonprofit Inbound Marketing Tips to Tap into the Next Generation of Donors

5. Share Your Vision

Even if your nonprofit only focuses on helping a small portion of a small community, your vision may have no limits. You may have already dramatically changed the lives of the people you’ve helped, and you may foresee similar results on a larger scale in the future. Showcasing the big vision of your organization can go a long way toward encouraging donors to invest in it.

6. Include Conflict and Resolution

All good stories have some type of conflict and resolution, with the tension building during the conflict until it climaxes and is resolved. That conflict and resolution can be evidenced in the life a particular individual you’ve helped, giving the audience concrete examples of the pain your main character endures before the resolution. The resolution in many cases may be the individually finally finding or getting help from your organization.

7. Use Real-Life Examples of Your Work

While statistics and reports do serve a purpose in nonprofit marketing, it’s the real-life individuals who star in your stories. You can certainly use statistics and facts to back up a story’s resolution, but you want to use real people, along with their names and specific situations, to make the strongest connections with your audience.

8. Make Conversation

Talking at your audience is a lot different than talking to them. You want to create a two-way conversation, asking donors and fans for their input. Send out surveys, ask for advice, and invite audience members to send in their own stories about your organization or photos of events they’ve attended. Their stories can become part of your story, and you want to encourage that participation.

9. Be Proud to Fundraise

Fundraising is what keeps nonprofits alive and thriving, yet some organizations tend to shy away from the fact that they’re a fundraising entity. Being upfront and honest about your need for funds typically doesn’t turn people off.

They’re more apt to be offended by seemingly covert fundraising tactics, like asking for money when you sent out a thank you card. Fundraising is part of all nonprofit stories, and you’re allowed to include it in your narrative.

Storytelling marketing can have an especially strong impact for nonprofits, with the power to make deep connections, tap into emotions and entice others to join your cause to contribute to the happy ending those you help deserve.

By: Jenny Traster

With a love of HubSpot dating back to 2010, Jenny works with clients to put the pieces of the inbound marketing puzzle together, from content marketing and social media management to demand generation and lead nurturing. When she’s not digging through data or reading the latest in social media trends, you’re most likely to find her traveling, practicing yoga or hiking with her dogs in the great outdoors.

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