Nonprofits: How to (Really) Harness the Power of Storytelling! (Part 2 of 2)

Welcome back! This post will conclude our two-part series on how nonprofits can start telling their stories. If you missed part 1, you can read it here. In part 1, we covered the types of stories your nonprofit should collect and share and we discussed the importance of defining your message, identifying your audience, and finding a source for your story. Today, we’ll walk you through the process of putting pen to paper and writing out your story!

Create a story map

Before you begin spilling your story onto a blank page, take a few minutes to create a basic outline or “map” that your story will follow. The English teacher inside of me senses that a few of you just gagged when you read that last sentence (outlines were never a very popular assignment with my former students). But trust me: taking a few extra minutes to map out your story will pay huge dividends! Once you’ve created your story map, you’ll simply fill in the details and connect all the basic elements of your story. You might be amazed how quickly your story will come together and how well it will flow because you took the time to map it out before you started writing.

When you’re creating your story map, all the basic elements of a story should be present. Your story map should contain each of the following:

  • A relatable, inspiring protagonist. Add rich details about your protagonist’s current situation, and set him or her in a fixed time and place (when and where your protagonist is at the beginning of the story). Describe his or her life and goals before the antagonist enters the story and throws things out of balance. In the Nonprofit world, your protagonist is usually the very person your organization is designed to help. At the beginning of your piece you need to show your protagonist in their “ordinary world,” or their world before they have received the help or education they need.
  • An antagonist (or “villain”). Paint the antagonist in such a way that he, she, or it also becomes a common enemy of the audience. The antagonist doesn’t necessarily have to be a person: it can be any type of opponent (a disease, social or emotional barrier, etc.).
  • A conflict, which is incited by the antagonist. This conflict (inciting incident) throws the protagonist’s world out of balance and presents him or her with an obstacle that must be overcome. This might be the devastation in a village caused by a disaster or the poverty that is plaguing an inner city.
  • Action on the protagonist’s part to regain balance. Describe any barriers your protagonist runs into while trying to overcome the conflict.
  • A climax–the point at which it is uncertain whether or not the protagonist will actually prevail over the antagonist. Perhaps this is the point where your nonprofit organization steps in and fights with the protagonist to defeat the antagonistic villain!
  • The outcome, or resolution, of the story. Did your protagonist prevail (with the help your your organization and its supporters)? If not, what lessons did he/she learn along the way? How has the protagonist’s life changed through this experience with your organization?
  • Finally, continue the story. Are there other people out there like the protagonist who need help, too? How is your nonprofit organization attempting to help these people? This is where you cast a vision for the future of your organization. Remember to make it emotional!

Writing and Rewriting Your Story

Once you’ve developed a solid story map, it’s finally time to write out your story! Follow your map as you begin to write, and fill it in with details to connect all the elements. Add as many rich, descriptive details as you can to help your audience identify and empathize with your characters. Write as you speak; try to make your writing style resemble a relaxed conversation with your readers.

Don’t worry too much about writing perfectly as you crank out your first draft. Get your story down on paper as quickly as you can– don’t stop to agonize over choosing the perfect words or proper punctuation. Once you’ve written out your (very) rough draft, you can begin the process of reading, editing, and rewriting your piece. After you’ve edited and rewritten the story to the best of your ability, you can choose to hand it off to a trusted friend, coworker, or family member who can dish out some constructive criticism and help you perfect your piece.

We know this seems like a lot of work just to tell one story… and truth be told, you’re right. Great storytelling takes some strategic planning and a little bit of hard work. But it does get easier with practice, and it will be worth the effort.

We understand the challenge of  creating great content!