This is the fifth post in a special 12-part monthly series — Powerful Nonprofit Stories: Finding, Framing, and Finishing. Read Jennifer’s previous posts in the series – Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.
Think back to the last webinar or conference you attended. Do you remember any of the statistics cited? Probably not. But I bet you remember stories that were shared. As young learners, stories help us make sense of the world. And when we’re (ahem) older and wiser? Stories help us form emotional connections — making them memorable. That’s key, because emotion drives donor giving more than anything else.
For the story payoff, though, you first have to have the right structure in place. Structure sets up the foundation of the story, which includes conflict, resolution, and affirmation. These are key pillars of nonprofit storytelling. You’re not just sharing a story, you’re motivating readers.
So the next time you need to craft a memorable story, don’t panic. Start with the basics.
Here are six A’s of story structure that I developed to help guide the way:
Arc: This is the basic story structure – with a beginning, middle, and end. Define the arc first to help build the structure of your story. Get the basics nailed down before you backfill with words.
Audience: It’s one of the first rules of marketing — and of storytelling, too: Know your audience. Whether you’re speaking to your Board or to a high-end supporter, tailor your story to your audience. For example, a high-end donor might not want to hear about detailed medical procedures in your story about a woman fighting breast cancer. But if that donor is a physician, those details matter.
Angle: A good angle is the entryway to your story. It pulls readers in. Powerful storytelling leaves readers craving more details and hanging on every word. The angle can often be crafted as the lead-in to your story. It sets up the entire mood. Try starting your story with a memorable detail you learned. Or perhaps start your story at the end — rather than from the chronological beginning. You can even try opening your story with a direct quote. Get your audience hooked from the beginning!
Action: Stories must have conflict. That’s their raison d’être. What is the conflict or action that is taking place? Is it a person who became homeless after losing his job? A child in a third world country who doesn’t have clean water? A starving dog left on the doorstep of a shelter? This ‘action’ keeps readers engaged, because they’ll want to find out how it gets resolved.
Answer: Once you’ve created your story’s action, you’ll also want to present an answer or a resolution. Remember, though, that good stories include the reader/audience. Make them part of the resolution. Try to keep the answer in your stories focused on not only what happened, but how. Which leads us to …
Affirm: Affirming your audience — your donor, your Board, or whomever you’re telling your story to — is a natural segue into your call to action. By using phrases like “Because of you” or “Your gifts mean …” you’re affirming their support and causing deeper loyalty. You’re telling them how their gifts have a direct, measurable impact. Affirming your audience also causes them to be a part of the story, creating even more of a connection.
The best stories are authentic, passionately told, and resonate emotionally. Are yours?
Use the six A’s of storytelling to set up the structure properly, and you’ll be well on your way to crafting storytelling magic!
Next month in part six of this series: Keep it fresh!
Jennifer Miller has 21 years of experience in direct response. She’s worked for 10 years as a Creative Director at TrueSense Marketing (www.TrueSense.com, www.linkedin.com/company/truesense-marketing; @TrueSenseMktg), helping nonprofits raise more funds through donor-centered strategies. With a Master’s in journalism and hundreds of published articles, Jennifer is in her element when she’s getting a story firsthand. Her secret? She likes to talk to people, and her goal is to get them to talk back! (Note: This doesn’t always work when it comes to rescued pets at animal welfare organizations.)