When someone asks about your nonprofit’s story, where do you start?
Do you talk about the problem you’re trying to solve? Do you explain why you founded the organization? Do you highlight your latest impact metrics?
Many nonprofit leaders have a hard time telling their story because they struggle to balance all the possible elements of their narrative. There’s too much they could say, so they don’t know how to begin.
That’s why, at Stand Together Foundation, storytelling is one of the pillars of our flagship Catalyst Program. We believe it’s one of the most powerful tools social entrepreneurs can use to communicate their values and motivate action.
Over the course of several months, our Catalysts work with a storytelling coach to craft a story that effectively situates their work in the context of their own personal experience and the value they’re providing to society. These inspiring stories eventually become Stand Speeches, like this one delivered by Shaun Alexander, or this one delivered by Danielle Espiritu.
Every story is different, but we find that the best stories combine a few key elements: a Story of Self, a Story of Us, and a Story of Now. Using these narrative devices gives our Catalysts a framework to organize their thinking and connect more deeply with their audience.
Keep reading to learn more about each element, and then think about how you might use them yourself the next time you tell your story.
Nonprofit Storytelling Element 1: Story of Self
A Story of Self invites others to connect with you on a personal level. This is your chance to explain the values that drive you.
You’ve made choices throughout your life in response to unique challenges and experiences. These might include confrontations with pain, moments of hope, or moments of clarity. Why did you feel you had to act? What sparked your commitment to the work you are doing now?
Be as specific as possible. Describe the circumstances, the places, the colors, and the sounds to draw your audience into your experience.
Nonprofit Storytelling Element 2: Story of Us
A Story of Us invites others to join your community. This is when you make others feel like they are part of your mission. It’s no longer personal; it’s a shared responsibility.
Talk about your organization as a group of people made up of unique experiences, working towards a single vision. Share examples of why the status quo is unacceptable, and paint a picture of how the world should and could be instead.
Nonprofit Storytelling Element 3: Story of Now
A Story of Now invites others to take action. This gives your story urgency.
Define your specific pathway to creating value. What is unique about your approach? What is your “secret sauce”? Why is your team needed, now more than ever?
It’s also critical that you offer hope at this point of your story. Give evidence of success, and point to signs that change is possible. By combining urgency and hope, you force your audience to make a choice, and decide whether or not they will participate in your mission.