Wondering how your non-profit can tell compelling stories that raise money? What exactly do you need to do to tell the story?
Over the years, I’ve created a step by step process that I use every time I help a client tell stories. In fact, it’s also what I teach my students inside my class called The Storytelling Nonprofit Masterclass. We’ve had over 200 organizations go through this class with some pretty amazing results. And today, I want to take you a little bit behind the scenes of my process and share with you the steps that I walk through when I do this myself.
Before You Start, Remember Storytelling is a Process
One of the best mindset shifts you can make about non-profit storytelling is to view it as a process.
Storytelling is not just an outcome, it’s not just a process that we repeatedly go through every time we tell a story. I find with a lot of things and nonprofit work, being process oriented is really helpful and helps us really get into a systematic way of doing things, but also really breaking down more complicated tasks into things that are more manageable for us to do when it comes time to do them. So let’s go ahead and get into the process you can use for storytelling.
Step 1: Create Your Brief
The first step in the process is to create a project brief. A project brief is a one to two page document that summarizes the most important information about your project. The goal of this document is to ensure that myself and others that I’m working with stay focused.
Here’s a sample of what you could include in your brief:
- The target audience
- Audience segmentation information
- Key messages
- The goal of the project that you’re working on
- Any creative details
Anything that you think is helpful for you to know and to orient yourself and your team to the project should be in the project brief. If you want to take a deeper dive into project briefs, be sure to watch this video tutorial.
Additional Resources for a Project Brief
- How to Build an Audience Persona
- How to do Audience Research (this is my in the trenches guide)
- How to Create Key Messages for Fundraising
Step 2: Source Story Leads
The next step in the process is to source story leads, which let’s be honest, is a big step.
To find ideas for a story you could:
- Use a story form
- Talk to colleagues doing front line work
- Ask for stories at meetings
- Ask your donors for stories
- Talk to volunteers who may have stories to share
I always tell people that conversations are where we find the best stories. And so having conversations with new people that I don’t often talk to or staff who work at organizations is a big part of what I do in finding story ideas.
Step 3: Conduct a Story Interview
The next step in the process is to interview someone for their story. I’m convinced at this point in my work that it’s not possible to tell a great story unless you’ve actually talked to the person and captured that story for yourself. Sure, you can get the story secondhand through staff, but the higher quality information you have to work with the better the story will be.
To prepare for a story interview, start by doing some background research. Gather information about the person you’ll be interviewing so you have context. From this research, put together 5 to 7 questions to use during the interview.
Story interviews go best when treated as a conversation. Consider your questions to be guidelines and follow interesting threads from the conversation.
My preference for story interviews is to record them whenever possible. This allows me to focus on the conversation rather than rigorous note taking. These days it’s easy to record conversations on Zoom or other online video conferencing services. The benefit of having a recording is that you can come back and listen to the interview again to capture good quotes.
Further Reading on Non-Profit Story Interviews:
- 25 Story Interview Questions for Non-Profits
- Want to tell a donor’s story? 7 Questions to Help You Tell a Giving Story
- Nervous about interviewing someone for a story? Additional tips for conducting better story interviews
Step 4: Write the Story
The final step is to actually write the story. A pro-tip for this part of the process — block off an hour right after your story interview to begin writing. The interview will be fresh in your mind and writing tends to be easier.
If you’re not sure where to start writing, lean on the story structure:
- Call to action
I like to start writing by crafting the lead sentences for each of the key transition areas in the story. I find that working on just writing those first gives me a loose structure where I can see where things are going. And then what I do is go back and fill in the details to figure out how I need to connect these dots so that the story flows.
One of the things that I want to just say to you is that nobody gets it right on the first draft. And I would guarantee that if you talk to any professional copywriter in the nonprofit sector, they will say the same thing. The first draft is just that. We always plan to do second and third drafts, and I find remembering that takes the pressure off for me. I don’t have to hit a home run the first time around.
Let’s Tell Your Stories!
Storytelling can be a straightforward process and I hope this article has demystified it for you! To recap:
- Start by creating your project brief
- Source story leads
- Conduct your interview
- Write the story