3 Key Elements for Effective Nonprofit Storytelling

What makes someone donate to your cause? Is it the design of your landing page? Is it your email messages? Your mobile-friendly fundraising software?

Yes, these are all important, but the most powerful tool is your stories. Without good storytelling, you lack the emotional oomph that’s needed to attract and retain supporters.

But what if your stories are boring?

What can you do to breathe live into your existing stories?

To start with, make sure your most important stories follow Hook, Problem and Payoff.

***Before you read any further, watch this short video (it’s only 54 seconds).

Go ahead and watch it, and when you’re done, come back here.

1. The Hook

If a story doesn’t hook in the first few seconds, it won’t move people to take action. To motivate people and put them in motion, you have to trigger an emotion. You and I both know this, and so does science.

In the video (I hope you watched it), the hook is the cute dog. As you watched the dog, you probably felt the excitement and anxiety about getting the frisbee. Your mirror neurons fired and you got hooked.

2. The Problem

Great stories hold our attention after we’re hooked. We continue to pay attention as long as there are problems and unanswered questions about the progression of the story.

Will the dog fall into the pool before he can get the frisbee? If you’re like most people, you couldn’t stop watching until got an answer.

Problems keep people engaged until they are solved. And in a fundraising narrative, the donor should solve the problem.

3. The Payoff

The payoff is the resolution to the plot questions, and thus, the story. You will know whether the dog got the frisbee or not. You will know whether he “lived happily ever after”.

The Payoff is so essential, that without it, you really don’t have a story at all.

“Once upon a time” without “happily ever after” is like “left” without “right”.

You can also think of the Payoff as the call-to-action. Because the best stories are always the ones we can be part of.

What do you think?

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John Haydon