[Guest Post] What’s in Your Nonprofit’s Story?

by Guest Blogger, Courtney M. McSwain


So, you’re a nonprofit leader trying to save the world. But, it isn’t enough that you are doing great work—now, everyone is telling you to become a master storyteller. What does that mean?

It’s easy to think that telling your organization’s story is more difficult than it actually is. We share stories about our lives every day. We tell colleagues what happened to us on the way to work. We reminisce about family vacations. We share childhood memories with friends. Telling stories in our personal lives helps us build empathy, connect with others, and create communities of support. The same is true for organizations.

The goals of nonprofit storytelling are to connect with an audience and build a community of support for an organization’s mission.

Even though storytelling is an intuitive part of our lives, nonprofit practitioners often struggle to translate the nuts and bolts of their day-to-day activities into an engaging message about the core beliefs driving their work. If you’re a nonprofit leader wondering how to tell your organization’s story, take a step back and consider the basics. Remember what we all learned in elementary school about stories? Each one can be broken down by five elements: Character(s), theme, setting, conflict, and plot. Think of your story in terms of these elements by asking yourself some basic questions.

  1. Character – Who’s your hero? (Hint: It’s not you or your organization.) The main character, the hero driving your story and your work, is the person or community that you are serving. Make this hero the main character of every story you tell.
  2. Setting – What world are you trying to create? As a mission-driven organization, you’re not just solving problems; you’re creating an improved world. Show your audience the world you envision.
  3. Theme – What do you believe? A literacy organization believes that every child can read. A food bank believes no family should go hungry. What does your organization believe? This is the connecting point to your audience.
  4. Conflict – What problem are you solving? Though your organization may know very well the extent of the problem, others may not. Tie your work to a direct need in the community, and explain it plainly.
  5. Plot – What’s your action? Have a concise answer to the question, “What does your organization do?” If the answer is complicated, take someone through a day in your life so they can walk in your shoes and begin to understand.

When you are able to clearly identify and articulate these elements of your nonprofit’s story, you can start to draw others into the work and create a community of champions for your cause.

CourtneyMcSwain-0030_compressed+croppedCourtney M. McSwain is a writer and feature storytelling consultant who helps artists and changemakers tell the story of their work. Visit Courtney online at courtneymcswain.com or on twitter @courtneymcswain.

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