Nonprofit Storytelling: What it is. What it isn’t.

in Copywriting - Nonprofit,Storytelling

I continue to come across numerous people seeking the “formula” for writing winning nonprofit stories. And you can find plenty of posts and articles promising to deliver the formula.

However; there is NO winning formula.

I’m not saying there aren’t proven story lines you can use to help you frame the structure of your story.

Just recognize that many great stories don’t follow any of those story lines. Whether it’s a novel, a Hollywood movie, or a story within a fundraising appeal.

That being said, here are tips that may help you get closer to writing a compelling nonprofit story:

There is no formula for writing a marvelous story. Simply principles and guidelines.

Following absolute “rules” won’t help you write a better story. Instead follow the principle that “… this works, and has through all remembered time.” Master the form; NOT the rules.

The more vivid the images … the better the storytelling.

Squeeze the life out of the least things.

Story is about thoroughness; NOT shortcuts. But this doesn’t mean you ramble on and on.

A story is a metaphor for life. This is real life drama unfolding.

Neat thing about fundraising stories is that there’s nothing false; it’s NOT make-believe. It’s real.

What is a “good” story? It’s something worth telling that the world wants to hear.

As you write, you must be moved by a desire to touch your readers. Respect them. Don’t take the cold view of seeing them only as a source of revenue.

You need to master the art of storytelling … NOT second-guessing the marketplace (i.e., how donors and members will respond).

It’s NOT pontificating about how great your charity or association is.

Nonprofit storytelling is giving your donor or member the chance to be the hero of the story.

You must believe what you write. This is why I [Karen Zapp] am selective in which charities and associations I take on as clients. Their mission must be one I either could, or do support.

A story is WHAT you have to say … and HOW you say it.

Storytelling is also hard work. Sometimes it can take hours to write a story that’s only a few paragraphs long … yet it grabs people at a deep level. It moves them. It triggers a response.

Don’t waste your time looking for the shortcut formula for nonprofit storytelling. It doesn’t exist. Not even in pixie dust will make that wish come true.

Related posts:

How to make nonprofit stories come alive

9 photo tips for better nonprofit storytelling

Structure of a basic nonprofit story


Photo Credit: “LucianVenutian” via

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