Nonprofit Storytelling: How to Compel and Inspire Support

Your nonprofit has worked diligently to build programs, events, and campaigns that help make the world a better place. But, the question that will ultimately get more prospective donors in the door is: how are you changing the world?

The answer to this question should be the core messaging that shapes all of your communications. No matter the details of your story, you can leverage that sense of empathy to solicit a response from your audience. Your story goes far beyond simply telling the tale of how you got started. In fact, storytelling encompasses blog writing, advertising, and stewardship efforts. Telling your nonprofit’s story in an emotionally compelling way will win the hearts and minds of your prospective donors and humanize you as a changemaker.

If you aren’t a master orator, don’t worry. There are several ways to hone your storytelling craft. Here are four nonprofit storytelling  strategies that will help you attract new supporters and keep them for years to come:

  1. Maintain the right tone of voice.
  2. Seek inspiration from real storytellers.
  3. Reference thought leaders and influencers.
  4. Integrate your story into your website.

Without further ado, let’s pull the curtain back on the skill of nonprofit storytelling.

1.   Maintain the right tone of voice.

When you read a book, you immediately get a sense of the genre based on the author’s diction and stylistic choices. These elements make up the tone of the story. Your nonprofit’s stories should also have a strong tone of voice because it gives you a personality. Prospective supporters are much more likely to donate to you if you aren’t a cold, lifeless organization simply going through the motions.

To get you started, consider if you want your organization to come across as:

  • Knowledgeable
  • Altruistic
  • Evergreen
  • Optimistic
  • Empowering
  • Compassionate
  • Hardworking
  • Humble

Regardless of the tone you choose, make sure that your nonprofit maintains an air of hopefulness for the future. While you may be addressing serious issues as part of your mission, your prospective donors might feel disillusioned if your voice is overly somber. In fact, they might feel like their help won’t make a difference, which is the last thing you want them to assume. Always remind your audience that meaningful change can only happen with their assistance.

2.   Seek inspiration from real storytellers.

Once you’ve determined your organization’s tone of voice, it’s time to implement the principles of nonprofit storytelling.These include having a narrative arc and characters. You can combine all of these elements together to create an interesting and powerful story for your readers.

While your nonprofit’s story isn’t a work of fiction, it can still benefit from these components. Here’s how you can structure your nonprofit’s narrative:

  • Beginning: Talk about the history of your nonprofit and the issue that you are trying to solve. For example, if your nonprofit raises money for diabetes research, you should discuss what inspired your founder to start the nonprofit and how the field of diabetes research has evolved since then.
  • Conflict: Mention the boundaries or societal factors that have posed a challenge for your nonprofit and the beneficiaries you serve. In the previous diabetes research example, you could mention the COVID-19 pandemic and how it slowed research on other diseases.
  • Rising action and climax: This is where you’ll explain how your nonprofit has worked to solve the problem at hand. Did your nonprofit host a successful Walk for Diabetes event? Is there a diabetes patient whose life has greatly improved with your research?
  • Falling action and resolution: Discuss your vision for the future and list your organizational goals, such as decreased insulin prices across the country or greater access to medical assistance.

Throughout the storytelling process, make sure you use plenty of emotional appeals. These will humanize your cause and get more people invested in your success. It’s also important to choose protagonists that are the face of your cause, such as a board member, volunteer, or beneficiary, and champion them throughout the story. After all, everyone loves having someone to root for!

3.   Reference thought leaders and influencers.

While you shouldn’t rely solely on data to tell your story, it’s important to maintain credibility as a thought leader. You can add educational value to the conversation and set your organization apart with the help of nonprofit influencers.

According to NXUnite, there are numerous nonprofit influencers who have notable audiences and impressive expertise. As a nonprofit, you rely on your connections with other professionals to share resources and reach new audiences. You can satisfy both of these purposes by including influencer quotes to bolster your stories and campaigns.

Reach out to your influencer colleagues in the sphere and ask if they’d be willing to provide information and context to your story. Their insights will help bring prestige and new supporters to your nonprofit while setting you apart as a thought leader in the space.

4.   Integrate your stories into your website.

Technology has made it easier than ever to tell an immersive, engaging story for your nonprofit. Plus, you don’t have to have a professional digital media studio to do it. You can start where many of your supporters likely encounter you for the first time: your website.

According to Fifty & Fifty, including interactive media on your website is one of the most effective digital marketing strategies your nonprofit can use. Your story should have a prominent place on your website with its own tab. Make a page on your site where you tell your story that includes interactive digital media, such as photos and videos, showcasing your beneficiaries and your programs in action.

You can also use your blog page as a valuable storytelling resource. Consider dedicating a specific blog page on your website that includes updates, testimonials, case studies, and opportunities to get involved. This way, your supporters can watch as your stories evolve in real-time and feel like they’re in the loop.

One of the best parts about technology is that it’s meant to connect people. You can leverage this to make your website visitors feel like they’re really part of the stories you’re telling.

Not only is storytelling a useful marketing and outreach tool, but it’s also an important practice that can shape the foundation of your nonprofit’s values and mission. If you haven’t already told your story publicly, meet with your team to start crafting yours. After all, if you spin a compelling tale with endearing characters and a hopeful tone, you’ll resonate with supporters invested in your cause.