5 Tips for Using Storytelling in Your Marketing

hub_magazine_logo_1 copyThis article originally appeared in our Nonprofit Hub Magazine, a free bi-monthly magazine dedicated to providing focused content on a particular topic. 

In our November/December edition, we explored how to build your 2015 marketing plan. To reserve your free copy of our January/February issue on donor retention, sign up today.


I know you know this, but it’s a point that bears repeating: Donors are typically more inspired to give for emotional reasons than logical ones. Telling stories that tug on heartstrings and emotionally connect with your audience gives your organization the heart and soul that donors are attracted to.

In short, one of your most powerful marketing tools is a great story.

From nationally recognized master storyteller and culture change expert Lori Jacobwith, here are five tips for using storytelling in your marketing plan. Keep these front and center as you strategize for 2015.

  1. When you tell a story, talk about an actual person using his name, age or other descriptors so your audience can visualize. This will give a face to your nonprofit. Donors don’t support organizations; they support the people that organizations serve.
  1. Use words that connect your audience to your work and the people you serve. Stay away from industry jargon and use words that appeal to people’s hearts and emotions. A good test: When you write the story, does it make you feel emotional? That’s a good indication it will do the same for your audience.
  1. Shares specific examples of your work and how it makes a difference in the life of a real person. Don’t say John thinks we’re amazing; talk about why John thinks your amazing. How did you help him? Maybe he’s celebrating five years of sobriety—be specific. You can also mention work that you’re not able to do yet, like provide enough tutors or offer enough support groups. A line like “we have 75 people on the waiting list” illustrates a need.
  1. Talk about exact results and transformations using descriptive, emotionally connecting words. If someone’s life was changed for the better, describe how. Maybe Sarah now feels less ashamed or Mary was finally not afraid to go home. Tell what did you do and how did it make a difference for the person you’re writing about.
  1. Keep it short. If you’re speaking, you should be able to tell a great story in two minutes or less. When writing, keep your story to around 500 words.

Bonus tip: Don’t be afraid to use a great story in multiple places. You can tell part of it in an appeal letter, another part of it on social media—maybe a longer version on your website. Telling the same story in multiple venues gives your message some traction, and that’s when it starts to stick.


Randy Hawthorne

As the former Executive Director and Editor for Nonprofit Hub and a Professional Certified Marketer, Randy shares his passions of marketing and education with nonprofits to help them implement marketing and organizational leadership principles so they can grow their organizations. Randy lends his marketing and organizational leadership expertise to a number of nonprofits in his community. Outside the office, Randy works with high school and college students and mentors young professionals to develop their leadership and entrepreneurial skills.

December 3, 2014

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