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The 4 C’s of Nonprofit Storytelling

A dictionary lays out with the word Story highlighted in purple. It's used to emphasize the word Story alone rather than a full definition.
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One sure way to unlock the giving potential of your donors is to communicate a compelling and effective story in your appeals. But telling stories can be difficult for some, especially if yreou don’t understand what makes a good story work.

There are four building blocks of a powerful fundraising story. I call them the 4 C’s.

  1. Character
  2. Connection
  3. Conflict
  4. Conquest

Your story needs at least two characters – The main character and the secondary character.

The main character can be a person, an organization, an animal, a plant, a place, or some other object. It really depends on the mission of your nonprofit, and the “client” you serve. The purpose of the character is to stir something inside the viewer. In the case of a fundraising story, the character is there to appeal to the donor’s inner values.

The secondary character is your organization combined with your donors.

[ACTION] Write down the characters in your story.

The only way for a character to appeal to a donor’s inner values is by making a connection. This is accomplished by revealing something the character either does, stands for, or has experienced. The character must be shown to have a universal human quality (Typically a human need, want or desire).

[ACTION] Write down the “universal human quality” of your character.

There is not a single person living on this planet that hasn’t had conflict in their life. Conflict helps us to connect and bond with people that share the same understanding of our problem. But conflict can also make or break us. It’s how we deal with it and conquer it that truly makes people respond favorably or unfavorably to us.

Your main character must have some big conflict that stands in their way of living their life to the fullest.

There are two types of conflict: External and Internal.

  • External conflict – is the obvious barrier in the way. It could be a physical condition (an illness), environmental (a storm), financial (loss of a job), or situational (political opposition).
  • Internal conflict – is what is going on inside the main character … the thoughts and feelings around the situation.

I crafted a story about hospice. It was about a woman who lost her husband to cancer. The cancer and loosing her husband was the external conflict. How she felt and dealt with it as a wife was the internal conflict.

Having both types of conflict in your story engages your audience on many different levels. It creates a much more powerful story.

[ACTION] Write down the conflict (External and Internal) facing your main character.

In order for a story to be compelling to an audience, it must have a positive outcome. The character must be able to conquer the conflict or at least have the hope of conquest. This is where your organization and your donors come in.

As the second character, your organization and donors must be the knight in shining armor riding in to save the day … the hero in the story.

[ACTION] Write down how your organization and/or your donors alleviated the main character’s problem.

The best story is when you can involve the donor to the point where the donor feels like they are the hero. Who doesn’t feel good when they’ve done something that helps somebody else, right?

With these four C’s of storytelling in place, you are ready to start crafting a very compelling story.

How do you approaching writing a narrative appeal? Let us know in the comments below!

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