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Revitalize Your Revenue with 6 Simple Nonprofit Storytelling Strategies 🚀

October 31, 2022
8 minutes

If you're a nonprofit fundraising superhero, chances are you also moonlight as a savvy storyteller. Sound like you?

Successful nonprofit fundraising relies on compelling narratives that drive donors and it results in more and greater impact. So, in the spirit of revitalizing your revenue to surge your social good, we've ✨revitalized✨ our expert nonprofit storytelling tips from 2018 to help you own your nonprofit narrative!

That's right, nonprofiteers, it's time to break out your craft supplies—we're storyboarding social impact!

Nonprofit storytelling is a thread that connects every nonprofit, everywhere. Despite the connecting thread, the key to telling your nonprofit's story is to make it authentically yours. No matter where your nonprofit came from or is headed, keep the light shining on your mission and impact.

But first... let's cover the basics 📚

What is nonprofit storytelling?

Simply put, nonprofit storytelling is crafting a narrative that gets across the message behind your mission.

Why should my nonprofit tell stories?

Storytelling is an awesome tool because it establishes an emotional connection with your audience, which raises awareness and funds for your nonprofit.

What makes a great nonprofit story?

Emotional resonance! If your audience connects with your stories, they’ll want to get involved in your cause. A great story makes your reader feel all the feelings.

Which online platforms work best for nonprofit storytelling?

You can tell stories in your newsletter, on your website, across social media platforms, at virtual or in-person events, and via text.

Sound good? Now let's dive into our 6 strategies for storytelling!

6 Simple Strategies for Nonprofit Storytelling 🔥

gif of a person with long wavy brown hair standing in a kitchen and pointing her finger up, then waving it in a circle. Caption is "Let's get started"

Your Donors Are the Main Characters ⭐️

If you take one tip from this article, make sure it’s this one: Make your donors the heroes of your impact story. It's a simple concept... so why do nonprofits miss what could be a golden opportunity to celebrate donors?

In general, most donor stewardship leaves donors feeling mehhhh. To be memorable in their hearts, minds, and wallets, you've got to remind donors of their exceptional awesomeness—and your gratitude for that radness. As you share impact and success stories, cast donors as the hero to celebrate the results their donations made happen.

In addition to making donors the hero, your impact story could feature the donor and their giving story.

What did I give to again?

Donors don't need you to hire a skywriter to deliver a thank you. Fundraising wizard Penelope Burk’s research has shown time and time again that donors want to know 1) how their gift was used and 2) what impact it had. Stories are a great way to give them what they want. But. It has to be the right story.

Pop quiz time! Which of the following statements is more meaningful to donors? A. “Your gift was able to feed 500 people in need,” or B. “Your gift made it possible for Jess to have a hot meal this week.” You get a gold star if you answered B!

Research has shown that donors want to understand the impact of their gift. Understanding becomes easier when you bring specific and tangible details to life. When it comes to your storytelling, what does that mean? Rather than trying to tell a story about a whole program or all the people in it, find a way to make it real. Paint a picture; a visual for donors to see in their mind’s eye. Connect the dots for them.

It's amazing what Best Friends Animal Society is doing! In one of their videos, they share that donors helped 76,000 animals find furever homes (amazing!), and to complement this, they show pictures of the lucky animals who were adopted.

gif of Audrey Plaza sitting and patting herself on the back. Caption is "you did good"

Storyboard to Strategic Success 🏆

Every story you’ve ever read or watched has a beginning, middle, and end. In nonprofit storytelling, one of the things we need to emphasize for donors is the conflict and resolution of the story. Why? Conflict shows a need—and remember, donors give because there are needs to be met. Resolution shows how donors were able to make a difference. Keeping this framework in mind will help you tell a better impact story.

We thought it would be fun to share how you can use five basic elements of a story (plot, setting, character, theme, and conflict) taken straight from your high school English class to build an enticing text engagement strategy.

Plot

Every story worth telling has a good plot, which is really just the sequence of events that make up the beginning, middle, and end of your story. If you've been in the business of changing the world for some time, you probably have a few impactful case studies that highlight the impressive transformation of the people, places or things you've helped. Time to put those to good use.

Pro-Tip: Create a mobile donation page and pick one of your most compelling success stories (you know, the one that pulls at the heartstrings). Send a short teaser to your supporters with a link to the site. The text can say something like:

"Jessie, it's your friends at Free the Forrest. It's been a long and heartbreaking wildfire season. Thanks to supporters like you, we rescued and rehomed 49 animals from dangerous California wildfires last month. See how far a $10 donation can go to #FreeTheForrest. bit.ly.nonprofit.com"

When your supporter clinks the link, they'll be taken to a mobile donation page that features a prominent donate button. They'll read a more detailed version of the rescue story, telling how wildlife was affected before your organization intervened and how they're doing now.

Bonus Tip: Try out this strategy before a fundraising event to build excitement and create a deeper connection to your mission by reminding attendees of the impact that your work has.

Setting

Set the scene to tell your nonprofit's story with maximum sensory inputs, mentally teleporting your supporters to a specific place and time to create a deeper connection.

Pro-Tip: For an upcoming fundraising campaign with a specific goal in place, send a personalized text to your supporters that tells the story of what someone's life will look like when your organization meets their goal. This could look something like:

"Damon, it's Kacey with Liberate the Lunchline. We're raising money to pay the school lunches of 1,000 elementary school students in Georgia this year. Your $10 donation will make sure 1,000 kids get free school lunch. Pitch in here: bitly.org/ltl"

The link takes donors to a mobile donation page showing a video discussing school lunch inequity, a conceptual video of what the community would look like if your nonprofit met its goal, or a family who will be positively impacted by the fundraiser. The sky's the limit!

Character

Telling a story is pretty difficult without a star subject or character. This could be one specific refugee your organization helped achieve freedom, an abused dog who's found a new home, the recipient of a new computer who can now do their homework peacefully, or even a historic building with cultural significance that's in danger of getting torn down.

Pro-Tip: Focus on what needs help and paint a picture of how a donation could turn the tides. It could be something like:

"Cory, Disaster Relief here. Hurricane Ida has devastated a nearby community. The Jimenez family lost their home. Can you help them rebuild?  Donate Now: bitly.org/dr"

Telling personal stories is extremely powerful in an emergency response situation. Using Funraise's Text Engagement tools during a crisis can increase the number of donations you get compared to using emails. Try it out!

Theme

Themes can be considered the overall message your nonprofit wants to convey. When incorporating a theme into your fundraising strategy, the first place to look is your organization's vision. Your vision, separate from your mission, is essentially what your dream world would look like if you achieved your mission. Your vision should create powerful imagery and storytelling opportunities.

Pro-Tip: If you want to take a different approach to storytelling, get people to donate to your overall vision, which is most impactful in year-round or year-end fundraising efforts and not tied to a specific program or event. An example of this would be:

"Maggie, the LGBTQ+ community is under attack. Imagine a world where everyone can thrive, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. That's The Equality Center's vision.  Help us build a better world for LGBTQ+ folks: bitly.org/tec"

Link to a mobile donation page with photos of a thriving and diverse community, stats with how many people your org has helped, or a video of activists discussing community organizing plans. Remind donors of the gratification of contributing to a larger vision and how doing something bigger can be super impactful.

Conflict

Conflict and tension in a story are what keeps you captivated. Imagine watching a movie where everything's just peachy—no villains, no overbearing in-laws, no chance of your secret identity being exposed. Snore. As a nonprofit, though, your biggest conflict is not having enough funds to fulfill your mission, and it's always a dire situation.

Pro-Tip: Text your donors a specific ask to help you reach a fundraising goal and make it urgent; this can be a real or manufactured deadline. For example, #GivingTuesday is a popular event. Although it's not focused on conflict, per se, the urgency is created by dedicating a specific day for your supporters to donate.

Got a program that needs to be funded? Create a fundraising page with a goal and a deadline. As the deadline approaches, text your donors to tell them how close you are to your goal and how a small donation of [insert dollar amount here] will move you closer. It's a tried-and-true tactic that gets people to press that donate button with a quickness. Here's an example:

"Erin, Community Kitchen is close to reaching its goal to help local soup kitchens stock their shelves in time for the holidays. Your donation can take us over the top! Donate now: bitly.org/ck"
A gif of a Black man with a headwrap, a brocade jacket, and a big smile saying "We're having fun here"

Make it Multimedia 📲

We’re living in a digital world, so put that pen down! You have countless exciting ways to tell stories through social media channels, videos, photos, audio—the list goes on. As you think about the final presentation for your impact story, look for ways your story can span across multiple medias.

Nonprofits are winning the multimedia game:

The Benchmarks Study from M+R found that, for the first time, the majority of nonprofit website traffic in 2021 was from mobile users. Optimize your storytelling to appeal to the digital eye like these nonprofits:

💙 UNICEF USA uses photo albums to showcase impact and fundraising success on their Facebook page. Not only does this make them shareable within their Facebook community, now UNICEF USA can send their donors a link via email that'll drive traffic directly to the photo album. Add that to your list of smart ideas!

💙 Chick Mission created a compelling storytelling video that is embedded into their Funraise donation page. The video can be shared across the interwebs and is a great tool to generate emotional connection with future donors!

SMS Storytelling Secrets 🔍

Text-to-give is your #StorytellingSecret. You already know that you need to tell your nonprofit's stories on your website, emails, and social media. Since texting is almost as natural as breathing these days, nonprofit organizations are moving towards text-to-give strategies and text donations to directly connect to new donors and retain existing ones.

According to Twilio, SMS messages have a 95% open rate. Yep, you read that right. And with incredible stats like that, it's a no-brainer to incorporate text engagement into your nonprofit fundraising strategy. But how should you go about that exactly?

gif of two young people having a seated conversation. #1 says, "what's your @?" Person #2 says, "Oh, I'm not on social media." Person #1 raises their eyebrows and says, "What?!"

Tell Your Story IRL to Boost Donations at Your Next Fundraising Event 💥

Once you become an expert at nonprofit storytelling, it’s time to learn how to share your nonprofit’s story at fundraising events. Putting on a successful fundraising event can be costly; the pressure's on to meet your fundraising goals so that money can go towards mission-critical activities.

So, how do you use the power of compelling storytelling at your fundraising events to maximize your donations? We've got some actionable suggestions for you so you can make the greatest impact.

Lay the groundwork before the event

Sometimes, you gotta tease 'em! Before your event, one of the best ways to build passion around the work you do is through short, but impactful stories. You can do this by making ticket purchases into an immersive storytelling experience—just add story elements into your events & ticketing form on your own website.

Weaving in impactful quotes or mini-story snippets will create conversation pieces leading up to your event without pressuring anyone to donate (although you can add that option during the ticketing experience!). You can also start an email campaign before the big day that highlights specific impact stories while building excitement for your event.

This is the perfect opportunity to reiterate what makes your nonprofit and the work you're doing so rad, and hopefully, pull at some heartstrings. Think of these as teasers in preparation for the big impact story reveal that will happen at your fundraising event.

Use the venue as an immersive storytelling space

On event day, if your nonprofit's story isn't interwoven throughout the event venue with impactful visuals and takeaways, then you're missing a major opportunity.

From check-in to dining tables to banners, you can visually tell your story through physical items and conversation pieces. Here're some examples: consider making postcard-sized handouts at check-in with stories and photos of the people you've helped. Have a banner stand next to the refreshments with some of your organization's most impactful stats. Put flyers on tables with a text-to-give number so donors can give with little pressure.

Little details add up to big benefits when it comes to getting donors immersed in your mission and your story.

Have a representative of the story show up at your event

The big reveal at your fundraising event should be storytelling through the people who've been most impacted by your nonprofit. The parents of the child who received medical care. The proud adopters of rescue dogs. The recipient of job training. The architect of your new app. Having someone who's intimate with your services speak to your guests during the program adds powerful layers to your nonprofit's story and expands the reach of your story beyond the limit of your guests' sight.

To get your attendees hyped for your special guest, send out an SMS message through Funraise's Text Engagement feature on the day of the event. Something like, "Guess who's coming to dinner! One of our favorite [program] members will be on hand to talk about their experience." And don't forget to link to your fundraising page in the text!

If all goes well (and we've got our fingers crossed that it will), your event guests will be overjoyed to donate to your cause since they now have a face and a personal story to put to the work you're doing. And you'll want to make sure they have an easy way to donate. If they're not handing over a check, you'll need the Funraise App so you can run their credit cards for maximum donations.

Follow up

After you've thrown a successful event and collected a gajillion donations, all the guest data from the event will already be in the donor CRM. Instead of manually entering donations and updating donor profiles, you can use the time to follow up through Funraise's email automations. Send out an email thanking your guests for their contributions and give them a final story tidbit that leaves them wanting even more.

Let them know that the special guest at your event is going on a job interview next week, or is going into remission, or that the rescue dog finally found a foster family. Then promise to keep them looped into future progress.

Hearing firsthand how the beneficiaries of your services are thriving is one of the most powerful ways to compel donors to contribute. There's no better way to do this than at your next fundraising event. Take our advice, and don't be surprised if your donors lean into that big nonprofit hug. Just embrace it!

gif of David Rose standing in the apothecary saying, "You know what I'm gonna do? I'm gonna follow up."

Be Creative–Boost Conversions 📈

This is where storytelling gets strategic! Always remember to think like a donor. Let's put on our donor lenses and boost our web conversions through storytelling, shall we?

Quantifying your impact through memorable stories will remind donors of the significance of their contribution. Stories should be relevant to your mission and to the moment or climate that you are fundraising in.

But why does it matter? Because it works.

After running tests, Action Against Hunger found that Funraise’s pop-up form increased their monthly giving conversion rate by 12.1% when launched from pages with stories or compelling content, compared with redirecting donors to a traditional donation page.

Increasing monthly conversions by 12%?! Sign us up.

As fundraisers, we would double our impact if we focused our attention on telling more compelling stories.

Funraise allows you to use storytelling to customize the giving experience while also implementing contextual giving tools—which has shown increased average online revenue growth by 77%!

You can use your Funraise campaign page to feature real-time stories of fundraising contributions to boost donor curiosity, educate prospective contributors, and increase overall impact. Use your savvy multimedia skills to create a video that tells powerful impact stories!

🚨 Breaking news: Remember the Benchmarks study we brought up earlier? The data also found that while nonprofit websites are more often viewed by mobile users, nonprofit online donations are most often made by desktop users!

"Even as desktop users represented less than half of all website visits, they accounted for 65% of all donation transactions and 76% of all revenue. This is another way of saying that donation page conversion rates were higher for desktop users than for mobile users, and that desktop users had a higher average gift"

So...make sure that your nonprofit site is optimized for mobile and desktop. But don't worry, your custom Funraise donation page will tell a compelling story on any device 💯

gif of an older white couple looking at someone and saying, "We are here for you. That's right. One hundred percent."


Map Your Emotional Impact 💙

Donors are awesome. We know this. Let’s remind them that we know this. Stories are a great way to say, “I see you over there. Yep, you. Being all awesome and human and what not. Go on with your awesome self!” These tips are just a starting point to get your creative juices flowing to tell memorable stories and generate emotional impact.

Remember that every success story you share helps your organization leave donors with that mushy-gushy-ahh-I-just-love-that-organization-they're-the-real-deal type feeling.​

TL;DR Storytelling is a Fundraising Tool

Championing the narrative of your nonprofit (and those who you impact) is the best marketing strategy to increase giving. Storytelling is the #1 tool in your toolkit to grow your donor base, educate the general public, and make meaningful social impact.

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