Nonprofit Storytelling: Seven Tips for Sharing Stories About Your Work

Lori L. Jacobwith is a master storyteller, speaker, trainer and author, and a guest contributor for Nonprofit Hub. She has coached & trained thousands across North America to collectively raise $200 million from individual donors over the past decade.

I’ve been coaching staff from social profit organizations for most of my career, even when I was working alongside them as the Executive Director or Development Director. One of my “soap box” topics has always been share MORE stories.

In the past while helping a CEO and Founder of a wonderful health related organization, I found myself struggling to keep engaged in the words she was using to describe their work. I asked Sara to share more stories to give real life examples so I could stay connected and continue to care about what she was saying throughout her 15-minute presentation.

Sharing client stories wasn’t new to Sara, but she struggled with how to use a story in short 3-4 sentences bites to paint a picture. The speech she gave was good, but it could have been even better had she used a few rules about stories:

1.  Stories should be about real people who need something, hopefully something that YOUR organization provides.

2.  Allow the person in your story to have a real name, age, and to speak for themselves.

3.  Minds wander, get real quickly. In about 4-10 seconds your listeners tune out if you haven’t grabbed them. Don’t tell me you are going to tell me a story about someone, just tell it. Start with the person’s name, age and a few descriptive words.

4.  Keep your story short. Six words to two minutes is the length I recommend.

5.  Allow your story to cause me to feel something. Anger, sadness, happiness, pride—it doesn’t matter what the emotion is, I just have to feel something.

6.  Your story should have a moment when people see themselves or someone in their own lives. Could be their aging parents, the daughter of the person who made their latte today or their own child.

7.  The best stories are told by the person themselves. Clients telling their own stories are the most moving way to share how your organization makes a difference.

A great story versus a good story can make the difference between keeping your donors and volunteers connected or losing them to the next good cause. Make sure to put a face on your work every day.


Follow Lori on Twitter, visit her Facebook page for daily coaching tips, or read Ignited Fundraising from Lori for weekly blog updates.

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