Creating Your Non-Profit’s Story Arc

by Joe Garecht

Fundraising Storytelling

By now, you probably already know that your non-profit needs to be telling a story.  The story of your work, your mission, and the positive changes you are making in your community and in the world.

The story of your non-profit should be part of your case for support, your donor communications, and everything you do.  It must appeal to donors, volunteers, journalists, clients, staff and the public.  It should be simple, yet emotionally compelling.

Creating a compelling story for your organization is easier said than done.  One of the ways non-profits most often fail when writing the story is in forgetting that every great tale needs a story arc.  Today, let’s talk about creating a story arc for your non-profit.

Stasis – The Calm Before the Storm

The first part of a great story arc is stasis – describing the world (or the community you are serving) as it was before the problem arose.  What was life like before it all came crashing down?  For example:

If you are a cancer treatment center, stasis is John living life with his family… before he got cancer.  Or Jane dreaming of the promising life ahead for her little girl, before her daughter was diagnosed with leukemia.

If you are a college, stasis is your school without a new business school building, before you needed the building.

If you are a homeless shelter, stasis is Amber’s life before she got hooked on drugs and became homeless…

Not every non-profit will be able to use stasis as part of its story arc, but many will.  Those that can’t can move right on  to the next part of the arc.

Trigger – The Problem Rears its Head

The next part of the story arc for your organization is the trigger – what is the problem you are facing, and how does it show itself?

John gets cancer… Jane’s daughter gets diagnosed with Leukemia.  Thousands of others do as well.  Hundreds of families in your community are devastated by cancer each year.  Here are the statistics that show the scope of the problem…

Your college’s business school is booming.  The current building is busting at the seams.  You have to turn students away, and of those you do admit, you are packing 30 kids to a classroom.  There’s no technology in the building, no meeting spaces.  It’s not conducive to a great learning environment.

Amber gets hooked on drugs.  She loses her job.  She needs treatment.  She needs a place to sleep.  She needs to eat.  Over 100 homeless in your town go unserved every day.  They live lives of desperation and sadness…

Hero’s Quest

In every great story, a hero arises to battle against evil.  In the Trigger, you described the problem that is facing your community… your country… or the world.  In this section, you introduce the hero of the story… your non-profit!

Your non-profit is on a quest, a journey… your goal is to solve the problem.  You have gathered a team of champions (your staff, volunteers, and primarily your donors) to battle the problem, carry out your vision, and end the scourge that is facing your community.

Your hospital has a plan to carry out radical new cancer treatments on the cutting edge of medicine, and your quest is to eradicate 4 crucial types of cancer in our lifetime.

Your college wants to set the standard for high-quality business education in your region, and will build a new business school building to enable your students to be the best they can be.

Your shelter stands ready to build a new floor, and to make sure that every single homeless person in your town has a warm place to sleep and a hot meal to eat, each and every day.

Invitation and Choice

At this point, the scene has been set, the battle lines drawn.  All that is needed for the hero to triumph over the problem is for more people to join your team and provide the resources you need to carry out your plan.  Tell what you need, and why you need it.  Tell how much it will cost to win the battle.

It is now that you present your reader with an invitation to join you.  The reader has a choice – they can aid you in your quest, or do nothing, and allow the problem to go on unchecked.

You present the reader with different options for joining you, and you anxiously await their decision.  Will they make a gift and help you slay the dragons you face?

Your Story Arc

Have you created a story arc for your non-profit?  Does your team know it, understand it, and use it?

If not, now is the perfect time to create one…

Additional Resources for Crafting Your Story

If you need additional help or inspiration for crafting your non-profit’s story arc, check out these great resources:

Non-Profit Storytelling and You – 8 Tips from Pamela Grow

The Guide to Non-Profit Storytelling from Vanessa Chase

Storytelling for Board Members book by Chris Davenport

Photo Credit: RW Sinclair

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