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7 Ways to Make Your Non-Profit Story Compelling

Everyone loves a good story. Whether you’re pitching to a corporate donor or to the public, the story you tell could make all the difference for your organization. Your organization’s story is your opportunity to get your audience’s attention and to make connections between your cause and your audience. It is your chance to make them care about all the great things you do.

Here are a few tips to help you make your non-profit story and your cause irresistible:

1. Start with a hook

People have an attention span of about 8 seconds and that is all you have to capture their attention, even less than that if they have to wait a few seconds for a video to load. The best hooks? Conflict or a strong visual works well as does a character that people immediately care about or can identify with. Consider opening with a startling fact or assertion or a compelling, yet brief, sound bite. Avoid the temptation to “set the scene” with excessive description or multiple characters.

2. Get your stories from the field

Many non-profits make the mistake of telling the stories that they think their audiences want to hear rather than real stories from people that are impacted by the work they do. Collect stories from your field. This doesn’t necessarily mean that your community has to be the ones to tell your story, but the source of your stories should be your community. “The closer to the ground you get, the better,” confirms one of the leaders interviewed for a Rockefeller Foundation report on creating Empathy in Digital Storytelling.

3. Tell the truth

Your audience can tell the difference between an authentic story and one that has been embellished for emotional effect. Once they recognize an dishonest tale, you’ve lost them. Keeping it real provides authenticity for your cause and adds a richness to your story that you can’t get with fictionalized accounts.

4. Focus on a character your audience will care about

Studies are repeatedly confirming that potential donors consider whether a charity’s recipients are truly worthy. You need to demonstrate why they are deserving and either “specify or imply low responsibility of the charity’s recipients” for their situation, according to the authors of a Journal of Consumer Research study titled, Empathy or Justice: What Makes Consumers Donate More to Charity? Failing that, you’ll have to find a way to develop empathy for the recipients.

5. Appeal to Emotion

This reaction should be instantaneous and should frame your story. Do you want your audience to feel angry? Sad? Shocked? Curious? Whatever response you go for should be tied to the purpose of your story. Angry people feel compelled to act, curious people want to know more.

6. Provide a next step

Capitalize on the emotional response to your story and provide your audience with an immediate, easy way to act on their emotions. How you do this depends upon the purpose of your story. If you are seeking a corporate donation, you might want to provide them with a link to a media or donation package. For individuals, a donation button or links to a web site or videos your organization has produced or even buttons to share this information you’ve provided. The purpose here is three-fold – to motivate people to action, to keep them engaged in your cause and to spread the message further.

7. Leverage multiple platforms

Getting your story onto multiple social and media platforms broadens its impact and lengthens the lifespan of your story. This allows people to access your story in the format they learn best with and allows them to engage by sharing your story across these mediums. Produce your story across multiple platforms and then share the alternate formats in each medium you use. It is also a great idea to build your story by providing more information or additional stories in other formats.

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