What makes an effective nonprofit story?

A powerful story can help your donors cross from casual reader to impassioned donor. An effective nonprofit story pulls on the emotions of the viewer. It cuts to the heart of the viewer, engages their emotions and demands they take action. It’s one thing to tell your story in a way that inspires. It’s another to motivate your supporters to share your story with their friends and family. But an exceptional nonprofit story inspires, motivates, and excites friends and family to share with their friends and family creating a domino effect of brand recognition and increased donations.

But an exceptional nonprofit story, inspires, motivates, and excites friends and family to share with their friends and family creating a domino effect of brand recognition and increased donations.

By including the five story elements listed below, you can bring like-minded individuals together to rally around the change you’re making in the world especially if you’re working towards an effective #GivingTuesday campaign.

1. Beginning, middle, and end.
Every story has a structure similar to what you see here:

It’s typically called the story arc or a chronological sequence of events.

The three-part model mentioned above carries this progression:

  • Beginning: Problem. Explain the problem that you set out to solve.
  • Middle: Solution. Describe how the character solved their problem with your help.
  • End: Success. Get people excited about the results.

Directors, authors, and marketers use this model to help share their stories. Any good story has these three elements but the story arc is just the beginning. The structure of events along the story arc weave together the events and the characters of the story. The great, Kurt Vonnegut, hypothesized there were 6 emotional arcs in story:

In fact, a group of students in the Computational Story Lab at the University of Vermont in Burlington has finally proven, without a doubt, that Vonnegut and his thesis were correct. It’s a fascinating read.

2. A relatable character

All stories are driven forward by characters. A good goal is creating characters your audience can relate to on a personal level. A good starting point is working with your buyer personas or fictional recreations of your most important donors.

 

3. Emotion

In a 2009 study published in The Annals of the New York Academy of Science, Professor Paul Zak asked his subjects to watch two videos. One tells the emotional story of a father whose son is dying of cancer and who is struggling to find a way to connect with the boy. The other is a more static, storyless video of the father and son taking a walk in the zoo. Professor Zak determined that those that felt empathetic after watching the video had a 47% more of the neurochemical oxytocin in their bloodstream. Our body responds to the power of emotion by releasing chemicals that elicit action.

Zak’s team ran a second experiment where they gave money to the subjects that they could spend as they pleased. Zak’s team found the subjects who produced the highest levels of cortisol and oxytocin were “more likely to donate money generously.”

4. Resolution
All stories need some kind of resolution. It’s why your viewers sat through your video for the last 5 minutes. It’s exciting, it’s suspenseful, and it’s satisfying. It’s here you want to show the users how your relatable characters overcome their problem by using your organization.

Connect the protagonist to the services of your organization to educate your audience on the scope of the problem and inspire them to be part of that solution.

5. Call To Action
The final piece of the puzzle is to ask your protagonist to take some kind of action. Hopefully, your audience is feeling inspired but they may not know the best way to act on that feeling. Enter the “Call to Action.”

Your CTA will depend on your organization’s goal, but should always be action-oriented. Some common call to actions include:

  • Donate – Giving money to your organization
  • Volunteer – Giving time to your organization
  • Advocate – Publicly supporting or recommending an organization, policy, or person
  • Fundraise – Raise funds through an event or fundraising site
  • Subscribe – Signing up to receive publications such as an email newsletter

Everything you do to market your nonprofit is another chapter in the story people hear from you. An effective nonprofit story versus a good story can make the difference between keeping your donors and volunteers connected or losing them to the next admirable cause.