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How to Create Compelling Stories About Your Nonprofit

Lindsay McGuire
March 26, 2020
Min Read

Storytelling is practically woven into our DNA. Since the dawn of time, stories have helped children learn crucial lessons, kept families entertained, and provided a sense of community and connection to many.

Times haven’t changed. Stories are still an important part of developing community, culture, and connections. It’s no different when it comes to a nonprofit. Stories help people understand the work you do, why you do it, and who it impacts.

But to really make an impact on potential donors, volunteers, and advocates, you need to tell a compelling story. Crafting great stories for your nonprofit can lead to better fundraising, more connections, and increased exposure for your nonprofit. Few things can inspire, motivate, and compel people like a good story.

The metrics of impact measurement are awesome and powerful and incredible, and you have to track them. But at the end of the day, if you've got that good story, it's worth sometimes a lot more. Stories are super important. Stevan Simich, CEO of Mogli Technologies

With technology playing such a big role in our lives today, you need to share compelling stories about your nonprofit from a digital perspective. When everyone and everything is online, it’s more important than ever to have inspiring stories on your website and social media that are well written and designed.

Here are some tips to help you tell compelling stories about your nonprofit.

How to Collect Great Stories

You can’t write a great story if you don’t know what the story is about! Here are some tips to help you get a discovery process in place to dig up great stories about your nonprofit.

Connect with your fundraisers.

Your fundraisers are out in the field chatting with potential and current donors all the time. Connect with them on a normal basis to discuss what kind of stories donors want to watch, read, and hear about.

Creating partnerships with your fundraisers can help the marketing team identify what resonates with people. If a fundraiser is getting ready to make a large ask, your team can help them prepare by providing an excellent story that will be compelling to that particular donor.

Go out in the field with your program staff.

The best way to gather stories is by getting them first hand. Make some time each month to go out in the field with your program staff to see your nonprofit in action. Be sure to have release forms, a camera, and a way to take notes so you can grab a story in the moment.

You may not always be available to capture moments yourself, so it’s smart to prepare your teammates as much as possible. Take some time to train your program staff on why you need stories and what makes a good story, so they can provide story leads to you when you’re unable to be there in person.

Know what works.

We live in a digital world that provides us with tons of analytics and statistics. Dig into the numbers to get a vision of what stories are working. Knowing what resonates with your audience will help you continue producing stories that bring results.

Here are some ways to get a better understanding of what stories work for your nonprofit:

  • Look at how long people are watching your videos on YouTube.
  • Dig into Google Analytics to see which pages get the most traffic and time on page.
  • Gather email statistics to see which stories people are clicking on.
  • Find out what stories are getting the most comments and shares on social media.

Create a digital story collection form.

When you’re in the moment of service, it can be difficult to remember to write some of the details down. Don’t let those moving moments escape you! Create a story collection process to ensure you have a system in place that makes it quick and easy to jot down the most important parts of the story. It can be as simple as creating a form with simple story questions. Having a process for collecting stories can also ensure they get stored in one place, where fundraisers, program staff, and other marketers all have easy access to them.

Developing Your Stories

Once you’ve collected stories, it’s time to put them down on (digital) paper. Here are some tips to help you flex your nonprofit storytelling muscles so you can create stories that succeed in a digital landscape.

Pick an Audience

It’s important to start with your audience in mind when crafting your story. Different details will resonate with different audiences, and you’re setting yourself up for disaster if you’re writing articles that are a good fit “for everyone.”

Are you trying to connect with mothers? Is this post going to relate to high schoolers? Does this story speak to those who may seek out your services? When you know who you’re talking to, you can craft a story that really speaks to them. This will also help you decide on the call to action at the end of your story. Is the ask to volunteer or donate? Sign up for your newsletter? Connect with you to learn more about services? Knowing your audience before you begin writing will make the call to action easy to craft.

Make it Real

Details really matter in stories. The more a reader can envision the characters, the more compelling the story will be. Making the story real with photos and videos can make it much easier for your reader to connect with the character in the story.

But for many nonprofits, there’s a large need to protect the identity of those they serve. When you can’t make a story more real by including a photo or video, here are are other ways to make your stories come to life:

  • Use quotes and powerful statements.
  • Share photos of staff involved with the story.
  • Avoid using overly dramatic or very generic stock photos.
  • Include details that help develop the character but don’t reveal their identity.
  • Turn quotes into images to use throughout the story.
  • Add lots of background information and details about the character’s personality. Designing

Make it Mobile

When putting your story into your content management system, it’s important to see how it looks on mobile. With a majority of people now accessing articles from a mobile device, the layout of your stories needs to look great on mobile devices and computers.

Break Up Text

Attention spans are short, and long blocks of text can easily divert attention away. Break up your text with white space, images, and videos to help keep your story engaging and interesting. If your story is especially long, consider spreading it out across two or three different blog posts.

Add Visuals

Whether it’s photos, a short video, charts, or graphic quotes, adding visuals throughout your story will help it look modern and fresh. Visuals can also help convey details in your story, such as what a person looks like or the environment the story takes place in.

Sharing Your Stories

After spending the time necessary to develop great stories, you need to share them far and wide! Encourage coworkers to share stories on their own social media pages to reach new audiences. Provide stories to partners, volunteers, and donors and ask them to share. You can even add a link to a story in your email signature.

No matter how you share your stories, the most important thing to keep in mind is that you are sharing an aspect of your mission with your stories. As long as each story reflects the core philosophies of your organization, what you do, and who you help, you can’t go wrong.

Get inspiration for your next story by listening to Formstack’s Ripple Effect podcast episode More Than Just a Text. Stevan Simich shares some compelling stories about nonprofits he’s helped with Mogli’s simple, yet innovative product.


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Lindsay McGuire
Lindsay is the Content Marketing Manager at Formstack, splitting her time between creating blog content, writing reports, and hosting Formstack's Practically Genius podcast. She's a proud graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism (MIZ!) and loves connecting with others on LinkedIn.
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