nonprofit storyteller

In part two of this series on the skills you need to be a great nonprofit storyteller, I talk about how to engage your audience emotionally through creative storytelling. You can read part one here.

In the first part of this series, I talked about why you need to define your goals, your brand and voice, and your audience before crafting your story. In this post, I’ll focus on the creative skills involved in storytelling

Present a struggle and a solution. 

At the root of every story is a struggle or conflict. This is true of the stories you’ll share about your nonprofit’s work too. 

For example, you’re working to solve a problem. Your mission likely addresses a certain struggle. That might be the need to provide housing to unhoused individuals, give under-resourced communities access to educational opportunities, etc. 

However, you don’t want your audience to get to the end of your story and feel hopeless about the odds of solving the struggle or like they can’t play a role in solving it. That means you need to get creative about how you frame the struggle. 

The key here is to communicate that your donors and supporters have a critical role to play in helping address that struggle—and that by supporting your mission, the struggle can be resolved. When you tell your stories, include a call to action that provides them with a chance to address the struggles you mentioned. Make sure they leave feeling empowered, encouraged, and engaged

Promote empathy. 

Storyteller and researcher Brené Brown says, “In order to empathize with someone’s experience you must be willing to believe them as they see it and not how you imagine their experience to be.”

So, how do you do that? You need to find a creative way to get your supporters to feel like they really understand the problem you’re trying to solve from the perspective of the people struggling with that problem

First, take the time to consider how your audience experiences the world. This will be the key to creating content that resonates with them. Then, figure out how you can communicate the struggle to them by building empathy for the people affected by the problem you’re addressing. 

This is why you need to look at your goals, measure your results, and tweak your stories based on that data. If certain stories aren’t effective at motivating your supporters to take action, you may need to change elements in order to get them to further empathize with the person at the center of the story.  

Consider all the angles of your story. 

You don’t just have one story to share. So, when you look at your work and the impact you’re making on the world, consider all the stories you can tell and all the angles you can approach those stories from. 

Ask yourself: How can you tell your nonprofit’s story from a new angle? How can you help the audience change their perceptions about topics they think they already know everything about? 

By opening up the audience to a new idea or way of thinking, you can open their hearts and minds to the work you’re doing and get them further invested in your cause

Incorporate humor into your story. 

The struggle you’re addressing is likely heavy; after all, your nonprofit exists to fight it, which means it’s a serious issue. How can you share your story in a way that doesn’t leave the audience feeling hopeless? One way to do that is to incorporate an appropriate amount of humor when you’re telling it.

Humor makes challenging or sensitive topics easier to digest. It also produces chemicals in your audience member’s brain—dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins—which can create a stronger bond between you and the person listening to your story. 

However, be careful about how you approach adding humor into your story. First, you don’t want to make light of the struggle or unintentionally imply that you’re laughing at the people who are impacted by that struggle. You also don’t want to confuse the audience about your brand. If your tone isn’t typically sarcastic or full of dry humor, don’t change it now. 

When in doubt, focus on yourself and what you’ve learned. We’ve all made mistakes that we can laugh about; this will humanize you and get the audience members to empathize with you—which should make them more tuned in to what you’re saying. 

Use descriptive language. 

When you use descriptive language, you help the audience picture something in detail. Consider your senses—what does something look, smell, feel, sound, or taste like? How can you help your audience experience these sensations through your storytelling? It’s another way to get them to empathize with the person at the center of your story, which means they’ll be more likely to support your mission because they want to help that person. 

As I mentioned in my previous post, I recommend looking at nonprofit professionals who are sharing impactful and engaging stories. See what they’re doing and figure out how you can adjust your stories as needed to get similar results. Stay tuned for part three in this series! 

Madison Gonzalez

Madison Gonzalez

Advancement Director at Morning Light, Inc.
Madison Gonzalez is a National Public Speaker, Storyteller of the Year Award-Winner, Best-Selling Author of Dear Mirror, Events Manager, and Published Poet. She is also the Advancement Director at Morning Light, Inc., and Indianapolis-based nonprofit that fosters community programs in Indiana for the terminally ill, seniors, families and the home-bound. As a storytelling coach and consultant, it is her mission to empower others to share their stories for impact and income. Madison can be reached at [email protected]