Imagine a story where someone was born, everything went perfectly from beginning to end, and then the story was over. Where is the intrigue? Where is the interest? Where is the excitement? Where is the lesson learned? Where is the transformation? When it comes to a good nonprofit story, struggle and overcoming are at the center. This is especially effective when trying to convince an audience why the mission of your organization is an important one. Stories are a form of communication that really shows an audience why something matters by giving an issue a context, a face, and a name.
Knowing what struggle your nonprofit helps solve will help you get good at identifying which stories you should be sharing. Think about who in your organization has experienced the greatest transformations. Remember, this could be the people you serve but also staff, board members, volunteers, or family members of those you serve. All people involved in your organization benefit in one way or another.
Human beings love a good story for several reasons. We can look to stories to be entertained, to connect, but also to learn. Stories teach us what has worked for others in the past, and what to avoid like the plague. In other words, we can learn from each other’s mistakes and successes by listening to stories. For this reason, sharing struggle and overcoming is vital for a satisfied audience because they will have some kind of takeaway at the end.
Struggles can be big or small. And in most cases, there are several struggles working against a character at once. It is rare that a person finds themselves in a tough spot based solely on one thing working against them. By sharing struggle, you are likely to engage your audience on a deep level in which they will sit up, pay attention, and long to know how things turn out. They start to put themselves into the story and start to think about how they would handle or respond to the conflict.
The struggles in a good nonprofit story formulate the rising action. What are the conflicts the character faces?
To give you an idea, some examples of obstacles are:
- character against nature
- character against another character (i.e. relationships)
- character against society
- character against self (self-sabotage)
- character against health
- character against technology
- and character against time
Aside from making the story more interesting, sharing struggles can also cultivate empathy in your audience. Stories are a great connector by helping demonstrate someone’s circumstances and point of view. Stories are a powerful tool in shattering judgement, preconceptions, and bias.
After you have done the work to build up tension and excitement by communicating struggle, it is important to bring it all to a big moment. This is commonly known as the climax and it is the moment that the character “defeats the dragon.” Equally important to the struggle is the triumph. While engaging your audience on an emotional and empathic level is key, it is also good not to linger too long within the hardships. Introduce the struggle, describe it, and then demonstrate how the character overcame the problem — most likely with the help of your organization and supporters.
From that point on, the story will start to wind down and provide the audience with answers and tie up loose ends that were raised in the beginning of the story. In order for a resolution to be most effective and satisfying, it needs to incorporate some kind of change to the character, the circumstance, or both.
Consider how the journey the character went through caused them to grow or evolve.
In some cases, a character may not achieve the initial goal but the challenges and struggles caused them to reevaluate their priorities or what really matters in life. How did the meat of the story result in a change to relationships, satisfaction, income, impact, environment, or situation? Identify the purpose for all that the character went through. Finding a purpose in the pain is incredibly inspiring and communicates to the audience that they too can find strength from their struggles.
An inspired audience is one that will want to act and there is no greater inspiration than a good nonprofit story of overcoming.