Top 5 Storytelling Components for Nonprofits

top 5

The concept of using storytelling techniques to communicate messages is anything but new. But there is always room for improvement. 

New digital tools such as social media and mobile are not just changing the way we distribute our stories, but also changing the way our audience shares them.

The Power of Story” is this year’s theme for the 2013 Annual Meeting & MuseumExpo for the Alliance of American Museums (AAM). The event will be dedicated to exploring just how impactful stories can help achieve organizational objectives. Questions to be addressed include, What are the elements that make a great and unforgettable story?, What are the techniques for good storytelling?, and How do we measure the impact of story on our different audiences?

Though these are valid questions to ponder, there is no doubt an abundance of great stories exist that demonstrate an ability to deliver messages effectively. Stories that are able to establish an emotional connection with their audience borrow their formula from tried and tested techniques that have been used in storytelling for centuries. Below are five essential components found in every effective story:

  1. 1. Characters – What is a story without characters? The most critical of story elements, characters provide context and make the story personal. Featured characters are not limited to those your cause serves – don’t forget about founders, staff, volunteers, donors, supporters, and the community. Finally, don’t exclude your audience. Always invite them to become a “character” in the story. Social media has certainly made this a possibility, so get creative!


  1. 2. Setting – Be descriptive about the environment or surroundings in which your story takes place so that your audience can picture “the scene.” Describe everyday settings that are familiar to your audience, this will help them visualize the story and make connections with the “characters.” The Setting can not only address physical surroundings, but can also present social, cultural or economic context. This can be achieved through interviews, research data and authenticated references.


  1. 3. Plot – If the goal of your story is to communicate messages germane to your cause, a strong plot is critical in helping your audience process the information presented. Always make sure to have a solid beginning, middle and end established. Include an exposition, or back story, that introduces important background information to the audience.


  1. 4. Conflict – Every story has a conflict in which the characters must rise up against or overcome. With a clear and established conflict, the audience will understand what is truly at stake and become engaged in the cause emotionally.


  1. 5. Resolution – Every great story ends with a culmination of plot elements championed by the hero character(s). Your organization should be presented as the steward of the cause and the audience invited to support the mission. The resolution provides and opportunity to present a distinct call to action that relates directly to your organization’s appeal.


No one wants to be “sold to” or “talked at” these days, especially when it comes to promoting an idea or cause. Sharing stories allows appeals to be presented in such a way that provide context and elicit emotion while transmitting critical information.

Your audience will connect with your message based on how relevant it is to their beliefs, not you or your organization’s ability to persuade.