Fri, November 02 2007

How nonprofits can tell a good story

Katya Andresen's avatar

Author, Robin Hood Marketing

Filed under:   Marketing essentials •

Katya’s note: This is Part Two of a post by Robert Dickman (left) and Richard Maxwell (right), master storytellers and authors of a new book called The Elements of Persuasion.  You can read Part One here.


Each of the five elements of a story (discussed yesterday here) offers unique problems in a not for profit story. For example – by definition not for profit volunteers are passionately connected to their cause. Passion is like fire. It is the energy that drives the story, but if it is too intense it drive listeners away. Passion needs to be carefully modulated to work its magic.

The choice of a Hero is often difficult for not for profits. In our commitment to make a difference we naturally see our clients as the heroes of their story (and in one sense they are) but they may not be the best point of view from which to tell it which is what we mean by the story element Hero. For example: It is hard to identify directly with suffering. A good not for profit story knows that and makes adjustments. Instead of focusing solely on the victim of abuse, the story might be told from the point of view of a mentor (maybe a former victim) who came to the victims aid. If you are looking for volunteers or funds that is who you want your listeners to identify with.

The struggle with the Antagonist provides the emotional hook of most stories (think of the look on a starving kitten’s face and tell me you don’t want to give to the Animal Shelter) but Antagonist need to be kept at a size where we know we will win the struggle. Being overwhelmed with the problem is a big turn off (as well as a major cause of volunteer burn out) so framing your story a doable step at a time is crucial.

A good story always gives us a few facts (not many) that make us Aware of the world in a new way. When I find out I can feed a child for only few dollars a month, or that changing a few light bulbs will be my part in taking the equivalent of millions of cars off the road to fight global warming I get inspired and want to pass the message along. Word of mouth works. Getting others to tell you story for you is the best use of your time. 

Finally, don’t be shy. What you do changes the world. It does. So let us have closure in your story. Let us see how you are transforming things for the better. It is the end of every good story, and leaves us ready to here your next one.

  • Comment: (3)   


I will do as soon as possible!

Posted by Hurley  on  11/02  at  07:15 PM

Is book interesting?

Posted by Chance  on  11/05  at  04:38 PM

Hi there! Thanks for putting that amazon link in your previous entry. I read the first chapter and was really intrigued by the idea of a powerful story. In a way, it is much like the basic plot line we all learned as kids. There are protagonists and antagonists. There is a rising action, a conflict, a climax and finally a resolution. It really is refreshing to hear such concepts applied somewhere else.

Posted by jen_chan, writer  on  11/05  at  04:40 PM

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