Why your nonprofit needs to be telling and sharing your stories


From a very young age, we are told stories, learn about stories, and make up our own stories. Even into adulthood, most of us tell stories daily without realizing it. And yet, when it comes to using stories in our marketing, we find it incredibly challenging to accomplish!

But storytelling is so essential to our communications that it’s worth taking the time to learn about so you can use it effectively to further your organization’s mission.

So what is storytelling, and why is it so crucial for your nonprofit? How can we use storytelling to help your organization achieve its goals?

Article by Mark Locki


At its most basic level, a story is a way to recount a sequence of events. But stories can be so much more than that.

Stories can make people laugh or cry. They can make them angry or happy. They can move people to take action, they can inform, and they can entertain.

Stories can get boring pretty quickly if we’re just recounting events. So how do we take our stories from a simple narration of what happened to something that moves and inspires people?

Why don’t we look at a story?

Meet Joel.

Joel is a 9-year-old boy who wants a dog. So his parents get him a dog, and now he’s happy.

While this technically is a story, it’s also dull.

Good stories need some tension, some drama, some conflict. If there's nothing at stake, why should your audience care?

In a typical story, our main character needs to go on a journey. It starts with the character wanting something. It could be something tangible like a new pet or food on the table or intangible such as education or a healthier community. It could be both.

Let’s go back to Joel and make his story more interesting. Joel is a shy, anxious 9-year-old boy. His anxiety prevents him from succeeding at school and developing friendships.

Joel’s parents, Tommy and Tina, have done their research and learned that pets can help kids with anxiety improve their self-esteem. So they get Joel a puppy, and he starts doing better in his classes and making new friends.

This is a good start.

We’ve introduced some character development, but we still need drama. The story is too easily resolved to make people care.

We need something preventing our characters from reaching their goal—a challenge they must overcome. In the case of nonprofit stories, this is an excellent place for your nonprofit to enter.

Back to Joel. Joel is a shy, anxious 9-year-old boy. His anxiety prevents him from succeeding at school and developing friendships. Joel’s parents, Tommy and Tina, have heard about how pets can help kids with anxiety relax and improve their self-esteem. However, Joel’s parents can’t afford to buy a pet from the pet store, as finances are tight in their household.

Tina hears about the animal shelter in town, and they stop by with Joel to look at some dogs. Joel is immediately drawn to Pudge, a 6-year-old poodle with big brown eyes and fluffy hair. Pudge perks up when Joel approaches, slowly lets his head down, and opens himself up to Joel’s touch. Joel pets the top of Pudge’s head, and a small smile comes over Joel’s face.

The tenseness in his body subsides, and for a brief minute, Joel relaxes. In an instant, his shyness disappears. Tina and Tommy know Pudge is the one for Joel.

Our story’s hero, Joel with his puppy?

However, there’s still the issue of money to overcome. Tommy asks about the cost of adoption. They see the joy Joel’s brief encounter with Pudge has brought him and are worried Joel would become very sad if they couldn’t afford to take Pudge home.

Amy, the shelter’s volunteer manager, tells them about a current sponsorship program where Sparkies, the local pet supply store, covers the adoption fees. With Pudge’s current diet, they can expect to spend $25/month on dog food. Joel’s parents look at each other, then glance over and see Joel and Pudge playing gleefully.

Finally, Tommy and Tina decide Pudge would be a perfect addition to the family and they’ll be able to handle the expenses.  They ask Joel if he’d like to take Pudge home with them.  Joel Enthusiastically responds with a “YES!”

By introducing conflict in this story, we’ve strengthened the impact of it dramatically. Overcoming the financial challenges of acquiring a pet helps make our story more moving and memorable.

But we’re not done yet. We need to see some change or improvement in our characters’ lives.

Six months later, we check in with Joel and find out that his grades have improved, and he has started to make new friends. He’s more relaxed, has better concentration and has worked to overcome his shyness. Joel’s not the only one who sees improvements; Pudge is as happy as ever in a loving family.

By coming back to see how Joel’s life has changed, we’ve shown how Pudge and the animal shelter have impacted one person’s life.


1. Stories create empathy and emotion

Sharing a powerful story with your audience helps your organization create an emotional attachment to your work. Stories create empathy, emotion and engagement in ways that facts, stats and figures can’t.

In our previous story, anyone with kids or pets could immediately relate to the joy a pet brings into their life, even if the challenges Joel faces are foreign to them.

2. Stories make numbers and data more relatable

This isn’t to say that numbers and data aren’t important. But stories can take those sometimes abstract facts and figures and bring them down to a relatable level. By sharing the story of one person, program, or issue, that story can paint a picture that the numbers can’t.

Think about the last time you were moved to tears while watching something. Chances are, it was not a piece of information explaining the scale of a problem. It was a personal experience of someone going through that problem.

Back to the animal shelter. What if we wrapped up the story with some facts?

“Last year, through our adoption programs, we helped bring joy to the faces of 2500 families”.

Now we’ve successfully brought the bigger picture into view while making those numbers mean something to the audience.

3. Stories help build a connection with your audience

If you want to connect with your audience on a deeper level, you need to tell the stories that only your organization can tell. Your audience wants to see, hear, read, and experience your excellent work in your community and world. By giving them an inside view of your work, you help build a stronger connection with them.

In the case of the animal shelter, many people may view shelters as places where only animals are helped. They may need to see the bigger picture of how your work also benefits humans.

By sharing a personal story about the relationship between pets and humans, we can touch more people on a deeper level.

4. Stories help show your organization's values and mission.

Every story you tell allows you to show your values and your mission. By connecting the purpose of your organization to someone’s personal story, we can demonstrate your commitment to your cause.

In Joel’s story, the animal shelter’s mission is to connect unwanted pets with new homes and improve the lives of both pets and adoptees. Our story highlights both causes, demonstrating your commitment to your mission.

5. Stories drive people to action.

By making your audience emotionally invested in your mission, they are more likely to get involved, volunteer, or donate.

Returning to our story, this could take many forms.

Perhaps the Carter family sees themselves in the story because little Beatrice also suffers from anxiety. They decide that adopting a pet might work for Beatrice and stop by your shelter to pick up a puppy.

The manager at PetCo Inc may see the story and want to donate to help less fortunate families bring home a pet.

Or perhaps the shelter needs more volunteers. By shifting the story slightly and telling it from Amy’s perspective, we can encourage people to volunteer for the shelter.


To recap, by telling stories that only your organization can tell, your organization is better positioned to connect with your audience, make your data more relatable, demonstrate your mission and values, and drive people to act.

These stories can be about our organizations founders, members, beneficiaries, volunteers or more.

By adding these personal, emotional and impactful stories to your communications repertoire, you’re giving your audience a reason to keep tuning into your messaging and driving loyalty and passion to your nonprofit.

What's your nonprofit's biggest challenge in telling stories?

Let me know in the comments section below!

If you enjoyed this post and know someone who could benefit from reading it, I would be honoured if you shared it with them!

Privacy Preference Center