A Cheat Sheet for Nonprofit Storytelling
A story is only as good as you can tell it. A really good nonprofit story will inspire lifelong supporters. When you’re sharing client stories with your audience, it helps to have a structure. In this post, I’ll share the important interview questions you should ask your champion clients and program participants, and dive into a story outline that gets to the heart of why your organization matters.
As you likely know, all good stories have an arc—a beginning, middle, and end, with a character who overcomes challenging circumstances and is changed by the end. Your nonprofit story should show your audience that your character faced a problem, that your organization helped change their situation in a big way, and how things are now.
Beginning: A character faces circumstances and has a desire or goal.
Middle: This character faces challenges and takes actions in pursuit of this goal.
End: By the close of the story, the character’s situation has changed as a result of their experiences and actions.
When you follow this arc in your nonprofit storytelling, it demonstrates how your organization is solving tough and important problems, and making the world a healthier, safer, cleaner, and happier place.
Use These Interview Questions
Just because your rockstar client is the hero of the story does not mean they know how best to share it with you. These are my go-to interview questions that will get to the heart of your organization's impact on their life.
Tell me about your life before the program. What kind of issues or problems were you facing at that time?
What made you decide to reach out to this program? Was there a particular incident that made you realize that you wanted or needed support?
What was your goal for taking part in the program? What were you hoping to get out of it?
Do you remember the first time you met one of our staff for services?
How has our program helped you or your family?
Is there a particular staff person who helped you a great deal?
Now that you have received services, what is your life like?
What does your future look like?
Follow This Story Outline
When you’re crafting your story, follow this outline—which will guarantee your story has the magic arc you need to inspire your audience. I’ve included a story about Michael, a teen whose life was changed through Safe Haven Youth Center.
Remember, if you use the interview questions above, you should have nearly all the content you need to fill in this outline.
Introduce client in time and place before your organization
Michael was a gay teenager, who was kicked out of his home and living on the streets.
Incident or event that leads client to reach out for help
After a violent incident with another teen and failing out of high school, Michael decided to reach out to Safe Haven, a youth center that he heard about through a homeless friend.
Your client’s goal
Michael was at the end of his rope. He was constantly anxious about being attacked again, and was desperate for a way to get off the streets.
The turning point: actions taken to reach a goal through your organization's services
Safe Haven Youth Center set Michael up with a short-term safe and affirming host home, a case manager specializing in LGBTQ homeless youth, and a community mentor.
The context: the broader issue, how your program helps, and evidence-based outcomes
LGBTQ youth represent as much as 40% of the homeless youth population. Our program secures crucial host homes, rapid re-housing (RRH), and other support services to over 200 homeless LGBTQ youth a year. Research shows that RRH is not only cost effective, but those who receive RRH assistance are homeless for shorter periods of time than those assisted with shelter or Transitional Housing.
Celebrate your client achieving their goal
Michael was committed to get back on his feet. His case manager helped him find part time employment, and encouraged him to finish high school. With the support of his mentor, Michael obtained his GED while in temporary housing. Through Safe Haven’s Rapid Re-Housing program, Michael was matched with affordable housing and given financial assistance for moving in costs. He could not believe that just six months prior he was feeling nearly suicidal about his situation, and he now had his name on a lease.
Your client’s life today, and a look into their bright future
Michael went on to get an associates degree in digital video production. He now works full time at another local nonprofit that serves LGBTQ youth, where he helps empower them to tell their own stories.
Call to action!
We could not be more proud of Michael for overcoming a situation that no teen should face. He dreams big, and so do we. Our goal is to increase our capacity to serve 400 teens a year by 2020. Double the number we serve now! Will you join us? Click on the button below to become a monthly donor today.
Are you moved? Would you click on the donate button? When you ask the right questions, you’ll learn that every life your organization touches is an incredible story worth sharing.