We spend a lot of time and effort talking about nonprofit storytelling because it is so important for successful fundraising. It’s an innate human characteristic that we tell and remember stories. That’s why it is a key component of how Mosaic views nonprofit storytelling. To do it well is an artform. But you don’t have to be Stephen King or Steven Spielberg or any other Stephen or Steven (unless you already are) in order to make nonprofit storytelling work for your organization. Let’s start by reframing how you think about your organization’s story.

Did you ever go on a campout? Do you remember telling stories around the campfire? Could you tell one of those stories today? Believe it or not, most people can. That story that you heard once or twice as a child is a vivid memory that can be recalled and retold. That’s pretty powerful. So, how do you make that process useful for your business? How do you create a campfire for telling your company’s story?

nonprofit storytellingWell, let’s look at what was happening when you heard the story. At camp you sat in the woods with your buddies at night staring at a campfire listening to someone tell a story. You were part of a community. There was camaraderie. You were sharing among peers. You were in a foreign place, free from the distractions that come with familiarity. It was pitch black outside with a blazing fire opening your eyes making it all the harder to see into the night. Your senses were so deprived that all that was left was the hypnotic flicker of the fire and the storyteller’s voice. Free from your senses, you could open your imagination and visualize the story being told. It made such an impression that many years later you can still retell the story. So, here are the basic elements at work:

* Foreign environment to remove distractions

* Community and camaraderie to create social bonds

* Sensory deprivation to create focus

* Hypnotic imagery to open the imagination

* A vivid story to stir emotions and memory

Would you have remembered the story if you heard it in your third meeting of the day in a well lit conference room with a PowerPoint deck full of bullet points and pie charts? I didn’t think so.

If you want to really get your donor’s attention with your story, you need to create a campfire. Get them out of their office, minimally to neutral ground, preferably to your cool office. Begin by socializing to break down barriers and build a sense of community. You might try having everyone participate in a communal act of preparing and sharing food. When it’s time for the storytelling, turn out the lights — theatres do this for a reason! If you must use PowerPoint, limit your presentation to a few image slides that reinforce your story. Finally, craft your story as an actual story with characters, a plot, and a resolution. You’ll be surprised at what a memorable experience you can create for your donors.


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