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Once Upon A Time- Using Stories to Engage Supporters

by Beth Johnson, Communication Manager, Salsa

Once upon a time… let’s face it. We all like to hear stories. It’s what connects us to other people, and often, what connects us to the causes we support. As a nonprofit, it’s beneficial for you to keep that in mind as you create the messages you put out to supporters. Tell them a story of how your organization is doing good and you’ll likely get a stronger response then just telling them you are making a difference.

In our downloadable e-book, The Essential Guide to Growing Your Online Support for Nonprofits, you’ll can find out a lot more about using stories to reach your supporters, but here are just a few of the highlights to help you get started creating impactful messages.

Defining the moral of your story- This is the first step to making your story telling effective. Decide what the goal is of telling the story. Are you trying to tug at the heartstrings of a supporter to get a donation, or are you trying to humanize your organization by telling a humorous behind-the-scenes story about something that happened in the office. If you know why you’re telling the story, you’ll know what elements are the most important to focus on.

Identifying the protagonist- When you think about it, this is equal parts very hard and very easy. Who is the story going to be about? Can you identify individuals with who truly represent what your organization stands for and can convey that message to your supporters?

Structuring the story- Okay, you know what you’re going to write about and why it matters. Now’s the time to put it together. In today’s age of instant information and technology, you have a few seconds at best to capture the reader. To do that, you need an attention getter in the first line. It might be a quote, or a shocking statement or even a interesting fact, but the first sentence (often the hardest to write) really does matter. Then, craft your narrative, remembering the whole point of telling the story in the first place and keeping that in mind when choosing what elements to include or leave out.

You’ve got a story now! Awesome. But you’re not done yet. Once you have the right story, you need to choose a medium (does it have the visuals to be a video, or does it need extra explanation better done in print?). And finally, you’ll need to pick the right distribution channel(s). Around here, we advocate for using more than one. Share part of it on social media and the full version on your website. Or, consider a screenshot of it in your newsletter and a link to the complete video on your YouTube page.

Want some examples of other nonprofits who are using storytelling effectively? Check out these case studies:

  • Protect Our Defenders- They used video testimonials to grow their support base from 0 to 20,000 in less than a year
  • Animal Legal Defense Fund- Working with Salsa partner See3Communications, they created a video ad to run on YouTube. But not just any ad- they told a shocking story in just 30 seconds.
  • Polaris Project- Using a three-part email series, they told the stories of some of the survivors of human trafficking that they’ve helped and exceeded their initial fundraising goal by 7%.

For more on how to use stories to grow your base of support, download the free 48-page e-book, The Essential Guide to Growing Your Online Support for Nonprofits. It covers all this and way more, like getting current supporters to spread the word about your organization and using a variety of content styles to entice new supporters.


Topics: Supporter Management