Using strategic story to inspire action for your nonprofit

Strategic storytelling is all about using stories to inspire and engage people to support your organisation in achieving its goals. A Narrative Framework does just that. It defines why your organization exists, the people you serve or ideas you advance and how you aim to accomplish your goals.

Creating a narrative framework 

Stories that achieve real and meaningful change don’t just materialize—they’re strategically conceived, creatively executed and attached to measurable outcomes.

This section will help you to build your Narrative Framework—the overarching story that helps provide structure and consistency for all of the individual stories your organisation will tell. 

Strategic story telling or how to write stories that inspire

Strategic storytelling is all about inspiring and engaging people to support your organisation in achieving its goals. Psychological research shows that motivating people to work toward a goal requires painting an inspiring vision of the future and explaining the challenges that must be overcome along the way.

As a nonprofit your organisation offers “solutions” that help people solve “problems” and overcome obstacles to achieve their goals.

You can use this framework to plot out the main ideas you want to convey in your stories. Then, you can create stories about specific individuals and situations that illustrate these ideas.

What problem is your nonprofit trying to solve?

What specific problem is your nonprofit or even the specific project you are writing about trying to solve?

In order for people to support your nonprofit’s work, they need to understand both the needs addressed by your organisation and the specific solutions you offer to meet those needs. You might deal with highly complex problems, but it’s important to keep the explanation as simple as possible.

Often charities make the mistake of dramatising their work, using huge numbers and facts to demonstrate the scale of the problem they are seeking to solve. This can be a mistake.

If a problem seems insurmountable, that may not feel as it is possible to solve and this can reduce the likelihood that they will support your cause. To encourage people to care about the problem, you need to show how it affects people’s lives. 

If you feel that it is necessary to use data, consider using a single, powerful statistic that opens people’s eyes to the problem in a meaningful way.

 What solution do you offer? 

Your solution should connect directly to the problem, in a simple and straightforward explanation. People are most likely to take action in support of concrete goals, rather than abstract ones. So be as specific as you can about your solutions and how they improve people’s lives.

Who are the people most affected by your cause?

Stories put people front and center. Your audiences are more likely to understand and care about your cause if they can relate to the people in your stories and see how the issue affects people’s lives.

Your nonprofit cares about improving people’s lives. You may think of them as beneficiaries, end users, clients, customers or just the people you serve. Picture the people who benefit from the work you do, that your donors can help, and write down qualities that come to mind about these people.

Who contributes to your cause? What are they doing to create change?

Importantly, people are more motivated to support a cause when they feel that they’re joining forces with others who share their values and interests. It’s important to share stories about people who help make change happen, whether they bring ideas, effort or resources to the cause.

Think about the people that are helping you to overcome the problem and advance the solution. They could be your own staff members, volunteers, or ambassadors—anyone who is contributing to the cause in a meaningful way.

These people can also play an important role in the stories you tell. They are people who want to see themselves in your work, so be sure to paint a clear picture of who can help and how.  What are they like as people? Why do they get involved?

Call to Action

A call to action is a message that creates a sense of purpose and offers the opportunity for people to take a specific action related to that message. In many cases, that message is one of urgency, but sometimes  a call to action might simply make your audience more aware of a cause or idea. Help your supporters understand what will be gained if they act and, just as important, what will be lost if they do not.

Emotion works hand-in-hand with cognition to aid in attention, retention and motivation. This has important implications: If people don’t have an emotional reaction to a story, they won’t remember it and will ultimately be much less be motivated to act.