There’s no shortage of nonprofit storytelling examples in the world. And for good reason. Those who know how to collect, write and share good stories have seen the boost that a healthy dose of empathy can bring to their fundraising and marketing efforts.
As humans, we’re wired to connect through stories. It’s a natural way to express yourself and share what’s most important to you. We tell a loved one about our day and share things that we’ve done or that have happened to us. We also use stories to share important lessons so that our audience will remember them — from the tortoise and the hare to the fall of the Roman empire.
Selecting Nonprofit Story Subjects
Using powerful stories in your marketing and fundraising helps your audience understand the challenge you face and how you help to solve it. But more than that, it helps them connect your mission and work to real people for whom they develop a strong sense of compassion.
Choose a subject with a relatable story that your audience can empathize with. It should offer a picture of what your organization does for those who may not be familiar with your work. It should inspire audience members to get involved in a way that could benefit others with similar stories.
They can come from those you’ve helped through programs or services, from staff members, volunteers, donors or someone else in your community. But at its core, the story should be able to provide value to the person offering it to you and inspire action within your audience — relaying the challenge or injustice that exists and giving them the opportunity to help address it through supporting your work.
The importance of partnership
Ethical storytelling involves an active effort on your organization’s part to protect the identity and integrity of the real lives captured within your stories. Whoever you select, form a partnership with them through the process of telling their story.
It’s really about working with our story contributors, seeing them as partners, in telling the story the way they want them told. And that’s a process. First, you have to get feedback. How do you know how someone wants their story told if you’ve never asked them?Caliopy Glaros, Nonprofit Nation with Julia Campbell
Collecting feedback doesn’t have to be complicated. Show them the story, photos, videos, etc. before they’re published to be sure you’re sharing their story in a way they’re comfortable with. Let them know where and when you plan to share it (or reshare it). Ask them how you can make the process better for them and encourage them to reach out should they change their mind about anything you’ve discussed.
Nonprofit stories can come in all shapes and sizes, from full blog posts to bite-sized examples woven into program content to a video or sound bite. But no matter the subject, form or length, your nonprofit’s stories typically have a beginning, a middle and an end.
At the start of your story, set the scene. Explain any necessary background information and introduce the subject of your story before diving in too deep. It’s your chance to grab your audience’s attention by introducing them to someone they know and can connect with.
Next, share the challenge, struggle or issue that comes about for your subject and the solution that your organization can provide. It’s a nice opportunity for your audience to see, through a specific incident, how your work can help someone.
Wrap things up by offering a resolution to the challenge. The ending doesn’t need to be perfect but should offer some closure. For example, your subject may still have a long road of recovery ahead of them, but they’ve made the important decision to begin that journey with your help.
Nonprofit Storytelling Examples
Now that you know the ins and outs of a good story, let’s cover some nonprofit storytelling examples to inspire your next story.
To bring home their work to expand educational opportunities for girls throughout the world, the Malala Fund created a series of videos with their local Education Champions. In this video on their program in Lebanon, Hiba Hamzi shows their work in action.
- In the beginning, Hiba sets the scene by demonstrating her passion for her work. She wants her daughter to have the education she needs to be successful. Any parent can relate to those desires.
- In the middle, she shares the story of her own education and the goals of their program for girls to attend secondary school in Lebanon, speaking with girls who don’t have that opportunity. She then outlines how they’re working toward those goals with Malala Fund’s support.
- In the end, she summarizes why she’s working so hard for girls in her country, while her daughter says her ABCs in the background.
Nonprofit stories like these don’t need to have a storybook ending. At the conclusion of the video, girls don’t yet have all of the educational opportunities that Hiba wants for them, but because of Malala Fund’s support, her campaign has a better chance of success. As I mentioned previously, a story can still be powerful and inspirational even if it’s not completely over.
Saint John’s Program for Real Change
Saint John’s Program for Real Change shares tons of inspiring stories showing the women that they work with turning their lives around. In “Deep Water”, they share Tracy’s story — a woman who struggled to heal from an abusive relationship and substance use disorder but is on the right path after working her way through their program.
- In the beginning, we learn the details about Tracy’s early life and childhood, which was happy and normal until she went to college and found herself alone. Many people can relate to the isolating feeling of leaving home for the first time and the bad decisions that may come about as a result.
- In the middle, we see Tracy’s problem: an abusive relationship and the substance use that followed it. We then see her solution in the choice to come to Saint John’s, where she’s able to access therapy, achieve sobriety and learn valuable skills for living independently.
- In the end, we leave Tracy in a job she enjoys and on the path to living independently. She still has more to her journey, and you’re inspired as a reader to support her path to independence.
Tracy’s story is relatable. It puts Saint John’s Program for women in crisis and the change it can achieve on full display. And it inspires their audience to empathize with Tracy and help others like her by supporting their work.
EB Research Partnership
Rare disease organizations wield some of the most powerful stories in the nonprofit space – an unknown but scary disease appears to change your world and daily life forever. Through Clara’s story, her parents paint a heart-wrenching image of a little girl who wants to run and play but is held back by a disease with no cure or treatment.
- In the beginning, we learn about her diagnosis as an infant and time spent in the NICU.
- In the middle, we get to see the difficulties that she and her family face in everyday life and the experiences that she misses out on because of her health. There is no treatment and supporting research for a cure, like the studies that EB Research Partnership catalyzes and funds, is her best chance.
- In the end, her mom looks into the future as her challenges will become more difficult without a treatment or cure. She opens the door here for readers to help give Clara’s story a happier ending by donating.
Clara’s story is written by her mom Rebecca. If a member of your community is passionate about your cause with a personal experience of your work in action and willing to share — let them tell their own story. You can always add an introduction to set the scene or wrap things up with a strong call to action (just be sure you clear it with your storyteller first), but a story in the words of the person who lived it will always be more powerful.
There are tons more nonprofit storytelling examples out there. But these three organizations found a way to personalize their impact, explain their work and inspire an audience to act. Hopefully, they’ve reminded you of a story you might share for your organization and give you the inspiration to tell it.
Questions about crafting the perfect story? Does your organization have any nonprofit storytelling examples to share? I’d love to read any you can share in the comments below.