Among the thousands of articles, blogs, webinars and seminars for nonprofit organizations is the advice to create powerful stories that show in real people terms, what is is you do.
The advice is to write a compelling story to catch the eye of, and engage, your current and prospective donors. But what is it they need to read and know?

That advice is great, but how do you actually do it?

What do you have to do when you sit at a keyboard to create your story?

There are a couple of elements you can identify to give you the building blocks for your story:

  1. Who is the hero?
  2. Who is the story about?
  3. What happens; what is the plot?
  4. What happens at the end? Are things all wrapped up or is it a cliff hanger?

Fill in these structure elements:

  • Here’s our hero.
  • First, this happened.
  • Then, that happened.
  • And then finally, this happened.
These are the people and action elements of your story.

Good start, but that is not the reason someone will read your story through to the end; simple action is not going to capture anyone’s interest.

What makes a story engaging is how the problem and conflict is addressed and accomplished. 

Start off by defining the problem:

  • is is a disorder that few of heard of that needs advocacy?
  • Is it access to clean water, education, nutrition, food & shelter or……..??
  • is it access to art, culture, music or arts education?
  • is it the abuse or exploitation of people?

Now that we know who and what, answer these questions: 

  • What does your hero want in this story?
  • What is missing in their live that needs to be filled in?
  • Who is your hero and what does he/she want?
  • Then, what is it that will address or solve this problem, what is your hero seeking?
  • Then, what happened? Be sure to save your solution to the end of the story or there is no reason to read all the way through.
Finally, the most important part:  what is the take-away you wish your readers to have?
  1. What is the point of your story?
  2. Why did you share it?
  3. What do you want from the reader?

OK, now you have your building blocks: let’s start by putting them together:   this is a great example from Covenant House in California:

Ashley, 24

Ashley entered the foster care system at age 3. She was placed in her first group home at age 15. When she was 18 years old she exited the foster care system and became homeless and had no place to go. She was lost, unsure of her future and hurting deeply.

Then, Ashely found Covenant House.

Through the safety and support provided at Covenant House, she was able to make a workable plan. She went to Cosmetology school of course! She began making some money, she continued learning valuable life skills, and she eventually got out on her own, all this while building community and creating her chosen family.

Ashley has remained connected with Covenant House over the years through volunteering, visiting staff and connecting with other Covenant House alum. Ashely was recognized by system workers as a young leader and she was asked to become a peer advocate for youth in the foster care system. She very quickly started to specialize in working with trafficked youth. It was not long after this that she was recruited to work at a youth drop-in center to provide life skills training and group programming for girls.

She eventually became a case manager and now, just a few years later, she is working as part of the 24 hour response team supporting victims of trafficking. Ashley’s work has opened doors for hundreds of young people, just as Covenant House and our staff opened doors for her. She is dedicated, determined and provides unwavering support and advocacy for many of our community’s most vulnerable youth. She continues to transform herself and creates space and opportunity for so many others to do the same.

The Bottom Line: 

In the above story, it is easy to see each of the elements of story building:  the hero (or heroes) and what happened.  It describes the situation & conflict, then what steps were taking to achieve the great solution she story shows.

  • What do you think the takeaways were from this?
  • Do you think it is successful?
  • What do you think this story wants from the reader?


Don’t let a blank screen and blinking cursor intimidate you: using the elements listed above, you can begin to craft the real stories of your organization’s work and success that can resonate with your readers.

Being by identifying your main elements, heros and conflicts, what happened and what the resolution was as a result of being involved with you. Once you have these, the story will flow.

Stories that can help others understand what you do, why it is important and what results you can achieve will go much further than any list of statistics and data. We can identify the true human experience so much more than any stack of facts & numbers.

Need help setting up your story elements?

Give us a call and we’d love to hear what you do.    310 828 6979