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
- Telling your nonprofit's story through quotes
- 4 Types of Quotes to Use in Nonprofit Storytelling
- Examples of Times that Quotes Made Communications Extra-effective
- Here's when to pass up using a quote
- Where to Use Quotes in Fundraising and Communications Materials
- Inspirational Quotes for Nonprofit Giving
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.
While you can absolutely convey emotion through your flawlessly written copy, one of the best ways to capture those feelings is through direct quotes. Quotes from a client, staff member, or donor allow you to bring emotion into your story and foster a sense of connection with your readers. For the sake of our article today, we'll be pulling in quotes from some real people who know a thing or two about real generosity.
“In the unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about hope.” —Barack Obama
Obama sure knows how to turn a phrase, doesn't he? In those few words, he conveys a passion, a yearning, that bleeds through the screen. And now that we've got your attention through a quote by an eloquent famous person, let's move on to some actionable steps to tell 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
“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.” —Charles Dickens
We don't know about you, but we find Charles Dickens' argument for giving pretty darn convincing. While your organization can likely come up with a list of reasons for giving that's a mile long, 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 others give.
A great quote can communicate values or worldviews
"You can always give something, even if it is only kindness." —Anne Frank
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. Look to Anne Frank for some values-driven, truly inspiring quotes.
A great quote can capture attention
“Every moment of your life is infinitely creative and the universe is endlessly bountiful. Just put forth a clear enough request, and everything your heart desires must come to you.” —Mahatma Gandhi
Did Mahatma Gandi talking about the meaning of life get your attention? An insightful, authentic, or heart-warming quote is a powerful way to draw focus from the dollar signs to the meaning behind them. They can help break up a lengthy block of text or emphasize a specific theme.
You can use many types of quotes in your nonprofit storytelling work. The exact types of quotes you choose will depend on your goal for the story, the audience, and the context. These 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.
Back on My Feet does a great job incorporating quotes into this video story.
A few examples of impact stories with great quotes you may want to check out:
- Liberty in North Korea intersperses moving quotes with their compelling narratives to tell impact stories
- NYU provides powerful snapshots of scholarship recipients highlighting donor impact through direct quotes
- Animal Humane Society uses fur-parents' own words to convey heart-warming adoption stories
- Village Enterprise breaks up their narrative blog posts by putting key quotes from beneficiaries in bold
- SF Marin Food Bank shares some great quote-based stories on their blog
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
“A quality education has the power to transform societies in a single generation; provide children with the protection they need from the hazards of poverty, labor exploitation and disease; and give them the knowledge, skills and confidence to reach their full potential.” —Audrey Hepburn
While we can't all have the amazing Audrey Hepburn as a donor, we can ask our donors to be powerful forces for good by sharing stories about the true meaning behind why they give and why your cause resonates. When you capture giving or fundraising 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
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” —Margaret Mead
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 the nonprofit sector. Disability rights org? Quote Helen Keller. Human rights org? Quote Eleanor Roosevelt. Animal org? Quote Jane Goodall. Church? Quote John Bunyan. And for anything and everyone else, just quote Oprah Winfrey.
Keep in mind that your quotee of choice doesn't have to be as famous as these folks; choose your own mentor, trailblazer, or impact-maker.
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
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.
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.
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.
For Women's History Month in March, All* Above All created social posts featuring quotes from famous women in history, like this RBG quote.
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.
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. When you don't know anything about the person who said the quote.
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.
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.
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. Or, like we did, celebrate client success with a joyful quote and link to even more of the story.
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.
Another great example is EarthJustice. EarthJustice provides free legal services to protect the planet, so they have an impressive roster of clients. To up the impact, their website features short, urgent quotes from noteworthy clients.
Video is the medium of our times because it makes an emotional connection and captures your attention. By featuring real people's real words in their videos, nonprofits can tell a story that resonates and converts.
The Attic Youth Center cuts through the noise by featuring direct quotes about the life-changing, life-saving impact of their services for LGBTQ+ youth.
And, for a different spin on the usual fundraising video, check out The Miracle Project, which supports children and adults with autism through a fully inclusive theater, film and expressive arts program. Since participants already have the theater bug, it's no wonder their videos, with lyrics and scripts written by their clients, are so powerful—and fun to watch.
Your annual report is all about transparently sharing your progress with your stakeholders. One of the best ways to keep the authenticity coming is by including actual quotes (and photos) from clients.
LA Family Housing's annual report featured a quote from a client that encapsulates the importance and effectiveness of their work.
Social media offers nonprofits endless opportunities for content creation that flexes 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's Instagram account fosters positivity by quoting the iconic 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.
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. While Pablo Picasso has some great quotes, he wasn't exactly a stellar human being, folks.
Here are a few quotes about generosity and making change from famous people to get your wheels turning:
“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much” —Helen Keller
“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around." —Leo Buscaglia
“It’s not how much we give, but how much love we put into giving.” —Mother Teresa
"Remember that the happiest people are not those getting more, but those giving more." —H. Jackson Brown Jr.
“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” —Winston Churchill
"We must remember that one determined person can make a significant difference, and that a small group of determined people can change the course of history." —Sonia Johnson
“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
"That's what I consider true generosity: You give your all and yet you always feel as if it costs you nothing." —Simone de Beauvoir
“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
“Everyone can experience the joy and blessing of generosity; because everyone has something to give.” —Jan Grace
“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
Now, we hope you're feeling inspired to tell stories that matter through quotes that resonate. Storytelling is a powerful tool that can help your organization raise money and build awareness. By layering in strategic, thoughtful, and inspiring quotes, you can further enhance the stories you tell and market them on social media. Measure the results you get from telling your story through quotes and, over time, you can bring even more focus to your storytelling strategy.