The Storytelling Framework That Will Inspire Your Nonprofit Supporters To Take Action
For organizations that are trying to connect with their supporters, telling a compelling story is essential. Whether you’re planning an advocacy or fundraising campaign, using a storytelling framework to create your calls to action can help you make emotional connections with your audience and ultimately move them to act.
The Story of Self, Story of Us, and Story of Now Framework
I used to conduct advocacy, communications, and fundraising trainings for local nonprofits and political candidates, and one of my favorite frameworks to share with them was the Story of Self, Story of Us, and Story of Now.
These are the three components that make up “public narrative,” but this storytelling framework can help to shape all of your organization’s public communications—from social media and web content to emails and letters to interpersonal interactions with donors and other supporters.
This storytelling framework asks you to answer three basic questions:
- Story of Self: Why have you been called to serve?
- Story of Us: What connects you with the group?
- Story of Now: What can you accomplish together with your audience’s help?
Sounds simple, right? It is, but there are other considerations for each of these stories, as well as the added challenge of telling each of them well.
By employing these tools, you can craft a powerful narrative that will resonate with your supporters and move them to action. Once you develop your stories, you’ll be able to refine them each time you tell them and create different iterations to use with specific audiences and in specific formats.
Let’s dive into the storytelling framework below!
Story of Self: Why have you been called to serve?
The Story of Self is your call to leadership. This is your chance to let your audience get to know you and to communicate your values.
Why are you doing what you do? What motivated you to do this work?
Almost everyone has an experience that motivated them to get involved in a given cause. For example, I became involved in LGBTQ+ organizing because I found community in a way I had never experienced before with an organization in college that worked to support LGBTQ+ students.
That’s a part of my personal Story of Self, though I would tell of a specific experience of showing up to an event and feeling that I belonged.
As you think about how to structure your story, consider these questions:
- What challenge did you face? Why was it a challenge?
- What choice did you make about how to deal with that challenge? Why did you make that choice?
- What was the outcome? How did the outcome feel, and what did it teach you?
The story you tell of how you got where you are today will give your audience a chance to emotionally connect with you and your values.
Story of Us
The Story of Us communicates the values and experiences shared by a community, organization, campaign, or movement and what capacity or resources that community of “us” has to accomplish its goals.
Think of it as an expansion of your Story of Self. In my example from above, I might go on to talk about how I saw others finding a sense of community in student, local, and statewide LGBTQ+ organizations. This would further highlight that particular need for community for LGBTQ+ people of all ages and backgrounds.
Your Story of Us may focus on what you have already done together, challenges you have already faced, and outcomes you have achieved. Or it may be a story of shared heroes, challenges they faced, and outcomes they achieved.
As part of a community, hearing how we have met challenges in the past gives us hope that we can face new challenges together as they come. It’s important that your audience feels like they are a part of the Story of Us.
Story of Now
The Story of Now is rooted in the values you celebrated in your Story of Self and Story of Us. Here, you present a challenge to those values or an opportunity to advance them that requires collective action, meaning everyone must work in the same way toward the same goal.
The Story of Now is urgent. This is where you bring in a specific organizational (or personal) goal and tell your supporters exactly what they can do right now to help achieve it. It requires more than a description of a problem or initiative—in the Story of Now, you have to inspire your audience to act together with you to solve the problem.
There are a four basic elements of a Story of Now:
- A strategy. A strategy is your plan to achieve your goal. Think of this as something you do, not something you have. Your strategy should be intentional, creative, and unique to the work you do and how you do it.
- A strategic hopeful choice. Each person in your audience must understand what will happen if they don’t act, what could happen if they do, and what action each of them could take that could start to bring about the desired outcome.
- A specific ask. There needs to be one specific ask of each person that involves a commitment of time or resources. Remember, everyone needs to be working together in the same way toward the same goal.
- A vivid description of a hopeful future. Your audience needs to be able to connect to the hopeful future you want them to work toward. This requires a vivid description of what can be achieved if we take action collectively.
More storytelling tips
Using a storytelling framework requires effective storytelling, and the best stories are specific and visual. They evoke a particular time, place, setting, mood, color, sound, texture, and/or taste. The more you can communicate your story in detail, the more power your story will have to engage others. This is what can give your audience access to the sentiment, insight, or values the stories contain.
Here are some tips to help you craft effective stories:
- Say what works first in the story, focusing on specifics.
- Identify both the challenge and the hope or opportunity in the story.
- Clarify choice points—moments when one thing happened instead of another.
- Connect the dots in the narrative, helping to illuminate how someone got from one place to another.
Finally, do not offer vague or abstract “feel good” comments unless you’ve established the context. Remember: Specificity is key.
In 2015, Tom Hanks wrote an op-ed for The New York Times about his experience at a community college and advocated for a public policy that would make community college more accessible. His op-ed is a perfect example of the Story of Self, the Story of Us, and the Story of Now in action.
Stories can be powerful. The better stories you tell, the better chance you have to connect with supporters on a deeper level.
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