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How to tell your nonprofit story through quotes

June 9, 2022
15 minutes

Storytelling has become a cornerstone tactic in most nonprofit fundraising and communications programs because stories have the ability to connect with donors and other audiences in a nuanced and emotional way that pure information can’t always do. Nonprofit storytelling also brings in an element of creativity to fundraising and communications programs. As the storyteller, you get to weave together quotes, information, emotion, and detail to captivate your audience.

There are endless ways to tell a great nonprofit story. By bringing quotes into your nonprofit's stories, you add additional voices and perspectives and (in some cases) valuable social proof for your cause. Read on for your definitive guide to great nonprofit storytelling.

Why nonprofit storytelling is essential

Most organizations have a specific approach to their communications and fundraising. It starts with an organizational voice and messaging as the foundation of an effective brand and ultimately, as the base of effective communication and fundraising. The problem with just relying on your organization's voice to communicate information is that it often lacks an all-important element—emotion.

Yes, emotion! While we can do a lot to cultivate tone and voice, there are some limitations that make your communications and fundraising less relatable for your audience. There is a whole spectrum of emotions nonprofit stories can convey—and not just really sad, heart-wrenching ones. If you need a reminder of the gamut of emotions your stories can convey, reference Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions.


Plutchik's Wheel of Emotions


While you can absolutely convey emotion through your copy, one of the best ways to capture emotion is through direct quotes. Quotes from a client, quotes from a staff member, and quotes from a donor are always you can bring emotion into your story that will allow your audience to connect directly with another person.

Telling your nonprofit's story through quotes

Integrating well-placed and well-timed quotes in your story can help you accomplish a few important things.

A great quote can provide social proof

Your organization can likely come up with a list of reasons for giving that's a mile long. But sometimes the most compelling reasons for giving come directly from donors. A great giving quote from a donor can enhance an already great appeal and story to provide prospective donors with clear proof as to why other donors give.

A great quote can communicate values or worldviews

When people donate to a cause, their giving allows them to act out their values, beliefs, and worldviews in a way that reflects what matters to them. Stories and quotes allow us to articulate common values and worldviews that donors share.

A great quote can capture attention

It’s an accepted fact at this point that nonprofits are alllllways competing for audience attention. One of my favorite copywriting tips is to start an appeal or communication with a great quote that gets to the heart of the story and gets the audience invested quickly.

4 Types of Quotes to Use in Nonprofit Storytelling

There are many types of quotes you could use in your nonprofit storytelling work. The exact types of quotes you choose to use will depend on your goal for the story, the audience, and the context. These three elements will help you make a strategic decision about the best kind of quote (or quotes) to use.

Quotes from Clients or Beneficiaries of Your Nonprofit’s Mission

One of the most popular types of stories to tell is an impact story. Impact stories directly connect donors to the work that they fund and that can be incredibly powerful in a fundraising appeal. Many impact stories will talk about a specific client or beneficiary of the organization’s work. Using a direct quote (or several) from the client can add depth to the story and ultimately be a more empowering storytelling experience for the client.

A few examples of impact stories with great quotes you may want to check out:

Quotes from Nonprofit Staff and Leadership

Quotes from nonprofit staff and leadership can resonate with a certain kind of donor who appreciates authority and leadership. Quotes from frontline nonprofit staff can also resonate well with donors who want to feel connected to their impact. When you get a quote from a nonprofit staff member or leadership member, be mindful of the context that quote will appear in so that it seamlessly fits with your messaging and tone.

Kimberly Bryant, Founder of Black Girls Code, is quoted throughout that nonprofit's website, even appearing in a TED Talk video on the About Us page. Her been-through-it guidance and vision set the tone for the mission and the organization.

Quotes from Nonprofit Donors

We already talked about the importance of social proof from donors in nonprofit stories. Beyond social proof, sharing a donor’s story is a great way to steward a gift and recognize a donor. When you capture giving quotes from nonprofit donors, try to get the following elements:

  • Their reason(s) for giving
  • What they like or appreciate about your mission or vision
  • What they hope others know about giving to your organization

March of Dimes Canada has a page dedicated to Monthly Donor stories that feature some incredible quotes like this one, "I encourage anyone to become a monthly donor - It is such an easy way to give and I know that even giving a small bit every month adds up to a much bigger gift at the end of the year," says Joan Wilkinson.

Quotes from Visionaries in your field

What's more motivating than a pep talk from someone who's been where you're at? If you're finding it difficult to articulate to supporters just how impactful your work is, bring in a quote from a visionary in your field. Activist org? Quote Ghandi. Youth-focused org? Quote Malala. Animal org? Quote Jane Goodall. Doesn't have to be as famous as those do-gooders; choose your own mentor, trailblazer, or impact-maker.

Times That Quotes Make Your Communications Extra-effective

When you're uplifting someone else's voice and experience

As a nonprofit, your voice holds a certain weight. People trust you. So when you speak up about an issue outside of your wheelhouse that affects us all, you better believe that your audience is listening. In that case, acknowledging that you're not the expert and highlighting the organizations leading change in that arena makes total sense. And quoting individuals from those organizations will make your brand sound even more trustworthy.

When you're responding to a crisis or major event

Whether it's breaking national news, an ongoing emergency, or something that affects your organization at a deep level, there are going to be moments when you feel you need to speak out. If you've hit on one of those crunch times and you decide to respond, using a quote can change the tone of your communication from a frenzied, theatrical reaction to a considered, resolute statement. 

When the war in Ukraine boiled over, Global Heritage Fund partnered with Europa Nostra. Their twin quotes signaled teamwork, collaboration, and the presence of a solid plan to protect Ukraine from intentional cultural destruction.

A website titled "Ukraine's Cultural Heritage - Rich & Diverse" with quotes from Global Heritage Fund ED and Europa Nostra

Physicians for Reproductive Health put out a full statement in response to the leaked SCOTUS draft in mid-2022. Their strategy in quoting their own statement on their homepage serves to show how seriously they took the draft and provides interested visitors with further resources.

The headline reads: "What we said... SCOTUS Intends to Overturn Roe" and offers a quote from PRH's statement

After the Uvalde, TX school shooting in May 2022, youth-focused org The Bloc Chicago tapped into their program participants' responses to showcase the enormous toll that school shootings are having on America's youth. 

A Facebook post features a quote from a young Black man, pictured in front of a boxing equipment in a church

During an awareness month

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month! To both honor AAPI leadership and raise awareness for their cause, NARAL wrote an article and created social media posts heavily quoting AAPI leaders.

A black text quote sits on top of an amorphous blue blob with quotation marks in the top left

For Women's History Month in March, All* Above All created social posts featuring quotes from famous women in history, like this RBG quote.

A quote in white text sits next to an image of Ruth Bader Ginsburg

To kick off Pride Month in June, Latter Gay Stories published quote-heavy corresponding blog and social posts celebrating clients' confidence in living as their truest selves.

A smiling woman holds her hands behind her head. She's wearing a green top and the text across the image says, "Hi, I'm Aubrey". To the right is the Instagram caption with her quote.


Here's when to pass up using a quote

When you don't mean it. When you didn't do the work to discover the background of the quote. When you're using someone else's words out of context. 

An example is MLK Day communications. In recent years, many organizations, companies, and individuals have come under fire for impulsively posting quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr. on social media. 

Statements like "Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that." and "I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear." are inspiring and celebratory, but they also draw criticism for only showing one facet of Dr. King's teachings. 

While there are loads of beautiful sentiments out there, your awareness of quotes in a larger context can speak just as loudly as the quote itself. So our advice here? Learn the origins of the quotes you use and choose those that most closely align with your message.

Where to Use Quotes in Fundraising and Communications Materials

In addition to using quotes in stories, there are many other ways to use quotes to tell your organization’s story. Here are a few ideas and examples to inspire you.

Newsletters

Chances are your organization has a membership newsletter or a donor newsletter. If you have a donor newsletter, content related to impact can inspire donors and connect them to their impact. This newsletter from Union Gospel Mission features a great story about a client, Miranda.

Website

Your organization’s website is a 24/7 employee and digital welcome wagon for people coming to find out information about your cause. These days most websites feature an “Impact” or “Stories” page that visitors can easily navigate to in order to learn more about what your organization does. This example from the Canadian Women’s Foundation showcases numerous stories and uses quotes as a part of the teaser copy.

Fundraising Videos

Video content is some of the most engaging content on the internet. From micro-videos on sites like TikTok or Instagram Stories to longer-form videos on your website or YouTube, there are a lot of opportunities for video storytelling—and each of these videos is a terrific fundraising opportunity. You can find some great examples of fundraising videos on the charity: water YouTube channel, and here are some quick tips for telling stories like charity: water.

Annual Report

Nonprofit annual reports are a natural place for nonprofits to showcase impact and use quotes. By combining a great quote with beautiful design, you can create an annual report that is visually impactful like LA Family Housing.

An image from LA Family Housing with a quote: "It's awesome working for the same agency that helped me get off the streets. Now I'm helping others and showing them resources that can better their lives. It feels like coming home." - Sonia

Social Media

Social media offers nonprofits endless opportunities for content creation that flex those creative muscles. From short videos to powerful graphics, there are a lot of ways to tell your story through quotes.

Girl Scouts of the USA chooses quotes that focus on women’s empowerment paired with a little branding element to customize it.

An Instagram post from @girlscouts with a large centered quote as the image: "Never dull your shine for somebody else." - Tyra Banks


Aging Ahead created a graphic for a Facebook post that highlighted one of their beneficiary’s experiences and then expanded on it in the caption.

A Facebook post from Again Ahead with a large quote: "The friendships I have made here give joy to my life!" House Springs Exerstart Participant

Inspirational Quotes for Nonprofit Giving

Beyond direct quotes from people, there are other kinds of quotes you could use to tell your story. These could be inspirational quotes or quotes from influential people. Now, using these kinds of quotes can potentially have a cheesiness factor; the key is picking a quote that reflects the same tone as your copy and the message you want to convey. You’ll also want to make sure the person the quote reflects well on your organization.

Here are a few giving quotes to get your wheels turning:
“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much” —Helen Keller
“It’s not how much we give, but how much love we put into giving.” —Mother Teresa
“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” —Winston Churchill
“I don’t think you ever stop giving. I really don’t. I think it’s an on-going process. And it’s not just about being able to write a check. It’s being able to touch somebody’s life.” —Oprah Winfrey
“Love grows by giving. The love we give away is the only love we keep. The only way to retain love is to give it away.” —Elbert Hubbard
“Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.” —Vincent Van Gogh
“Charity begins at home but should not end there.” —Thomas Fuller
“No one has ever become poor from giving.” —Mary Angelou
“Giving to those in need will bring more joy than money could ever buy.” —Dave Ramsey

Storytelling is a powerful tool that can help your organization raise money and build awareness. Laying in strategic and thoughtful quotes to your storytelling can further enhance the stories you tell and help you market the stories on social media. By using a variety of perspectives and mediums, the quotes you share will reach different segments of your audience and accomplish your fundraising and communications goals. Measure the results you get from telling your story through quotes and over time you can bring even more focus to your storytelling strategy.

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