What would you say is your favorite movie? While we all have different opinions on what our go-to film is, there is likely one consistent among them all: compelling storytelling.

Good storytelling can help you sell products and services or your cause quickly.

But to be even more specific, for nonprofits, good storytelling can help you captivate donors, raise money and awareness for your cause. And for churches, a compelling story of life change may be enough to finally make someone want to attend your church for the first time.

There are more than 1 million registered nonprofits in the U.S., and many of them advocate for similar causes. 

But what makes you and your nonprofit or church unique? How you tell your story. 

Here are five components of compelling storytelling:

1. Great stories fit into the larger narrative of your organization.  

The stories you tell need to be consistent with your mission and message. Each script, video, or newsletter story should all point back to your messaging to continue to reinforce how the mission is making a difference.

2. Great stories have a clear problem or antagonist. 

Have you ever seen a movie about a man who lived happily with his wife and kids, ran a successful business. And whose biggest struggle was deciding what to have for dinner? Probably not. You may have been bored just reading that sentence.

Conflict is the force that drives a story. Why? Because overcoming conflicts or obstacles moves people emotionally. Stories of people or causes who have defied the odds get people rooting for the character, and in turn, rooting for your cause.

St Jude antagonist: cancer and disease

Charity Water antagonist: lack of water/dirty water

Operation Smile antagonist: Cleft lip/palate and inability to smile

Be clear about the problem before you talk about how you solve it. Help the reader or potential donor understand the issue at hand. Create a compelling cause that they will be already engaged in and wanting to help you continue that work.

3. Great stories are personal.

We feel connected to the story when we can empathize on an individual level with its characters. Given that our minds are wired to care more about individuals than for larger groups or organizations as a whole, your supporters are more likely to appreciate your impact when they see how it affects specific people.

This means the 30,000-foot explanations about your organization's mission may not always be the most effective. There is a time and place for those types of content; however, individual stories should not be overlooked.

For example: If your nonprofit builds wells in India, instead of talking about how many wells you've built over the last 5 years and your scaling impact, tell the story of the mother who now doesn't have to spend her whole day walking to find water for her kids. Then tell them how many of those mothers have been impacted.

You don't need hundreds of impressive stories to make a difference. Start with one or two and watch the impact.

4. Great stories convey a theory of change to the problem you continually share

Communicate the change, not just the problem and how your organization helps solve it. Show the real change in someone's life, in the community, etc.

- What problem are you trying to solve?

- What does your nonprofit do to help solve that problem?

- Show an example of the change.

5. Great stories are told from different perspectives

There are many ways to tell the same story, and some angles are better than others based on the objective of the storytelling. 

Consider mixing up the perspectives from which the stories are told (even telling the same story through the eyes of different people and maximizing the impact of a single story over time). 

Maybe one story can be told from the perspective of the person whose life was directly changed. One can be told from the volunteer's viewpoint who was moved by being a part of it, or one from the donor who helped make the change possible.

Each different perspective is valuable and may serve different purposes or move people uniquely.

So, how do you start? 

Start documenting stories – add a note to your phone, carry around a small notebook, whatever you have to do. You hear stories all the time, both big and small in scale, but don't let them go in one ear and out the other. Record them and commit to telling more stories on your socials, your website, and other communication outlets. Start with once a quarter, and as you hit those benchmarks, up your game and become a storytelling master.

If you find yourself needing help with your messaging (to be the undertone of your stories) or even crafting the stories themselves, we're here for you! Contact us at any point in your storytelling journey, and we're happy to jump in and help.

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