Nonprofit Marketing Tips: How to Use Storytelling

By Salesforce.org | July 25, 2019 | Marketing & Communications, Nonprofit

Nonprofit Marketing Tips: How to Use Storytelling
By: Paul Lee, Product Writer, Classy

Storytelling can be a powerful tool for your nonprofit to engage and attract donors. Unlike a mission statement, stories develop meaningful connections with your audience and motivate them to action.

As a marketer, this makes storytelling one of your strongest tools to inspire support for your cause. Below, we’ll walk you through the different ways you can start to infuse it into your efforts.

What’s your story?

1. Start with structure

From classic 5-act Shakespearean dramas to Gustav Freytag’s famous narrative pyramid, the best stories need structure. Giving your story structure helps your cause become more than an abstract mixture of ideas. A strong story structure ensures that readers take a concrete journey: they learn about your cause (beginning), see the problem (middle), and see how you’re making an impact (end).

Although Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” (used by Pixar, Disney, and others) has more detail, generally, successful stories are broken into 3 parts:

The beginning

Your narrative can begin in many ways, but the goal is to find a direction that aligns with your tone and message. It often helps to start with a character—someone your audience can identify with and care for. Note: the main character should be your audience, not you! You are the mentor, and your audience is the hero in the story. Like Yoda and Luke Skywalker.

The hero can be someone affected by your cause who has a goal, such as providing for their family or protecting forests. Their efforts to achieve this goal can give your story direction and momentum.

The conflict

After you introduce a well-rounded character and direction, you can present a conflict or obstacle that stands in the way of your character reaching their goal. Perhaps it’s poverty, disease, or poor nutrition.

Rather than focus on a broad problem, highlight personal hardships so your audience can make one-on-one connections with your beneficiaries. Focusing on your beneficiaries’ stories can help potential donors create emotional connections to your cause through the identifiable victim effect or the tendency to support identifiable individuals as opposed to larger, abstract groups.

The action and result

The final step is to show how your organization helps these characters face and overcome challenges. Supporters are instrumental in helping characters as they take action with your nonprofit: volunteer their time, sign up as peer-to-peer fundraisers, donate, or commit to a monthly recurring gift.

As for the ending, your nonprofit will want to communicate that your mission will need continual support. But with the right tone, you can celebrate the progress you’ve made and invite your audience to become part of the larger narrative.

Collaborate with your team to set goals.

2. Set useful goals

While the larger goal of storytelling is to create emotional connections to your cause, you should also have a plan in place to measure your content success. Did your storytelling efforts drive traffic to your fundraising pages or website?

No matter what your goal is, you’ll want to make sure it’s specific and measurable. For example, you could aim to increase the number of visitors to your website by a certain percentage over a specific time period. Goals like these give you a more objective view of whether your content is helping your organization attract and motivate donors. From there, you can tweak your content structure to be more effective.

3. Tailor your content

You’ll want to make sure you regularly evaluate your audience appeal. The best storytellers create interest by consistently evaluating and meeting their audience’s values and needs.

To gain a clear understanding of your audience, you can:

  • Conduct surveys online or at events
  • Join conversations on social media
  • Evaluate your blogs and emails to see what topics are most popular

This will give you additional information about who engages with your content and the type of stories they love. As a result, you’ll be able to revise and reuse your marketing efforts so they grab and keep the attention of readers better with each story you create.

4. Expand your story’s reach

When it comes to content and nonprofit marketing, blog posts remain the most popular format. However, communicating your story through multiple formats opens the opportunity to reach new audiences.

You can share your story in multiple ways, such as:

  • Videos
  • Podcasts
  • Social Media Posts
  • Infographics

For example, a video can bring your story to life with immersive visuals and sound. You can even add the video to a blog post to expand the appeal of a content piece. But no matter the format you use, remember to tailor your content to help your story resonate with your target audiences.

See it in action

The Girl Effect combines video, content writing, and graphic design to inspire support for their cause. Their video also covers the three key parts of storytelling structure and has a concrete goal—getting people to visit their website.

What to do next

No matter how much experience you have in nonprofit marketing or storytelling, the tips in this post can help you examine and improve your content. After all, even the best storytellers practice the basics to improve their skills. A good starting point is to outline and structure a new narrative you hope to use.

Otherwise, you can learn more about nonprofit marketing with the following posts in the Nonprofit Digital Marketer series from Salesforce.org.

PartnerClassy is an official Salesforce.org AppExchange Partner. Find their app on the AppExchange.

About the Author
Paul LeePaul Lee is a product writer for Classy—a social enterprise that creates world-class online fundraising software for nonprofits, modernizing the giving experience to accelerate social impact around the world.