nonprofit creative content

Discover the Five Basic Story Types to Inspire Your Audience into Action and Get Your Nonprofit Creative Content Juices Flowing

When searching for inspiration for your next newsletter, e-mail, or public appeal, consider examining the five tried and true story types to get your nonprofit creative content juices flowing.

The Five Basic Story Types Are

  1. The Origin Story
  2. The Underdog Story
  3. The Redemption Story
  4. The Over-Coming the Monster Story
  5. The Quest Story

Each of the stories types have a slightly different approach, but the overall message of character, goal, struggle, and overcoming is present in all of them. Let’s explore each of these more to see which stories would best support you and your mission.

The Origin Story

According to dictionary.com an origin stories is defined as:

noun. a backstory, or established background narrative, that informs the identity and motivations of heroes and villains in a comic book or similar fictional work: The superhero’s origin story begins with a tragic accident that left him scarred, but also resulted in his supernatural powers.

Okay – obviously this may seem a little dramatic but the idea is the same. Origin story is important because it communicates how something came to be. Origin story humanizes a business or mission. People don’t want to relate to a corporation, full of spreadsheets, facts, and dates, they want to connect with other humans. Whether you are communicating to donors, employees, investors, or the general public, including an origin story is important because it makes the organization more relatable. 

How did your organization come to be? I’m not talking timelines, we all know from middle school how boring those can be; I’m talking about a real human experience that your audience can see unfolding. 

First, think of what your organization stands for; there is a reason you do what you do. Reflect on what your organization sets out to accomplish and filter your origin story through the inspiration to communicate that goal. This will help you trim the fat that doesn’t serve your audience. Too many details can ruin an origin story, or any story for that matter. Additionally, focusing on a part of an origin story that does not communicate the mission doesn’t do anyone any good either. Make sure the origin story relates to the end goal and relates to the audience. Remember, when you are constructing a story, your audience isn’t so concerned with you but rather what you can do for them. 

Your origin story should answer some questions the audience may have and maybe even questions they didn’t realize they had. This is your chance to show the audience why this organization is important to you, and should be to them. Your stories will help your donors, investors, and employees learn what you’re really all about. People are fascinated by what you’ve done, but they’re much more interested in why you did it. 

Underdog Story

Story plot number two is the classic underdog narrative. In essence, rags to riches. A homeless teen becomes a Harvard Grad. A massive corporation being born from the humble beginnings of a garage. Most of your audience can relate to, or at least respect, the concept of humble beginnings and thus, can subconsciously place themselves as part of the story.

Chances are good you are already familiar with some of the classic, inspirational underdog stories.  

  • J.K. Rowling writing Harry Potter as a struggling single mom trying to put food on the table. 
  • Nike founder Phil Knight peddling shoes out of the back of his car at track meets.
  • Nineteen-year-old Jimmy John Liautaud serving sandwiches out of his garage. 

Audiences love these narratives because they show that with hard work, anything is possible. Consider some of the “underdogs” your non-profit has served, how can you show your audience how your mission helps people triumph in the end.

The Redemption Story

In this version, the beginnings may have not been all bad but at some point in the character’s life, things took a turn for darkness. Perhaps an addiction arose, they found them-self battling depression, they entered an abusive relationship, or they lost sight of who they were. These stories can really help evoke empathy in your audience by helping people remember that everyone makes mistakes or faces hard times.

The story has a happy ending, though. A re-awakening occurs. Somehow the character is able to overcome the misfortune and learn something in the process. Usually, the lesson learned throughout the redemption story can be a great takeaway for the audience as well. 

The Over-Coming the Monster Story

Facing cancer. Facing a tornado or hurricane that destroyed a town. Facing oppression or abuse. These are all cases of overcoming the monster. In the Over-Coming the Monster archetype, there is something specific working against the character that they are able to conquer by the end of the story. These stories unite the audience against the “monster” and are very inspirational to the listener. 

The Quest Story

The Quest Story is different because the character typically doesn’t come from a rough past and isn’t facing something terrible. This character has a drive in their heart and something that they know needs to happen, even if it may be a difficult task. The character seeks out the adventure themselves in this narrative. Perhaps the character left a cushy job to form a non-profit… Maybe the character sold their home to join the Peace Corp… etc. Ultimately, the character sets the mission in motion themselves. Perhaps you could invite the audience to embark on a “quest” of their own by becoming involved with your mission.

Chances are good that your organization has at least several of these stories available to share. Consider the various “characters” who work for your organization, are helped by your organization, or are inspired by your organization. Reference these archetypes the next time you need to get your nonprofit creative content juices flowing to inspire your supporters.

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 madison@toldcoaching.com.