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Downes Murray International News

Non-profit storytelling for fun and fundraising

Did you know that every good non-profit fundraiser is a storyteller?  As development professionals, we cast real life stories for donors that excite and intrigue.  Joe Garecht reports.

We show the world as it is, and as it could be, and then ask our listeners/prospects to jump right into the story and take the reins by investing in our vision for the future.

At least, that’s the way fundraising should be. So often, though, we get mired in the details . . . the time and date of the next event, the prospect universe for our upcoming direct mailpiece, the conversion rate for our website “donate now” button . . . that we forget to dwell in the story.

The story, my friends, is what is most compelling to donors, prospects and volunteers. Every non-profit has a story to tell. If you’re wondering how to paint a clear picture with your story, here are some tips:

Your story has an antagonist and a protagonist

Like any good tale, your story has a hero, a protagonist. That protagonist, of course, is your non-profit – and the people that work there. The hero battles against an enemy, the antagonist. And your story has an antagonist as well . . . the wrongs that you are trying to right, the problems you are seeking to solve.

If you’re working with a homeless shelter, the enemy is homelessness and hunger. If you’re raising money for a hospital, you’re fighting cancer, illness and disease. Colleges seek funding to vanquish an uneducated populace, a city full of the underemployed, or a town without true academic and civil discourse. No matter your mission, there is an antagonist you are battling.

Be bold in telling your story. Don’t be afraid to paint it in these terms.

Your story has an arc

Even with a valiant hero and a dastardly enemy, stories can fail to hold the attention of listeners if they don’t have a clear arc. The tale of your non-profit and of your work has a compelling story arc.

Think about it . . . where did your antagonist come from? How did the problem arise? When was it discovered? How many other heroes have come up with the wrong solutions and failed? When and why did your organisation come onto the scene? What special powers do you possess that make your non-profit, as the hero of the story, uniquely qualified to win the battle? What is your strategy? When will the battle be won?

Your charity’s story has a beginning, a middle and an end. The end, of course, hasn’t yet happened. It’s a vision you paint for the future . . . one where your organisation wins the day, all with the help of your donors.

You’re telling a ‘choose your own adventure’ story

Remember, as you tell the story of your non-profit to prospects and donors, you’re telling a ‘choose your own adventure’ tale the people listening to your story can choose to make your vision of the future a reality by getting involved and investing financially in your organisation. Or they can sit back and do nothing, and risk having the antagonist prevail.

Think that sounds too dramatic? It isn’t. Doesn’t your organisation do good – and necessary – work? Aren’t you fighting against a real problem, seeking real solutions that help real people? Then how can you not frame it as a chance for donors to get involved on the side of the hero, or risk having the bad guys win the day?

Your story is real

Here, frankly, is the most compelling part of your story . . . it’s real. The tale you tell isn’t a piece of fiction. It’s an honest to goodness true story, happening in real time. When you make an ask at the end of your story, you are giving people the very real chance to make a huge difference in the world.

Is that what you are telling your donors? Is that how you are presenting it? Or are you relying on a wishy-washy case statement that waters down the facts and plays nice around the edges before meekly asking for “whatever support you can afford”? Fortune favours the bold, especially in non-profit fundraising.

Now go out there and captivate your audience

Take some time, right now, to think through the story of your non-profit. Figure out how to tell your tale in a way that is compelling, emotional, and leads to an ask. Then, go out and cast the vision that will captivate your audience and ensure that your non-profit wins the day.


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