Source: Fenton Blog by Mike-Smith

A development director at an agency that helps troubled children once told me this as we worked on their annual report. These words echo reactions from other organizations trying to more effectively integrate storytelling – often for the first time – into their communications.

Not having clear “characters” or “villains” are real challenges, but neither should stop nonprofits and foundations from developing more compelling stories to convey the importance of their work. That’s why I worked with this particular client to use a composite of the youth they serve – as well as the neglectful
family members who contributed to the child’s problems.

Characters are absolutely critical to a good story. There’s a reason why we cheer for Rudy when he finally gets to play, why we cry for Bambi, and why we love it when Harry Potter defeats the despicable Lord Voldemort.

  1. People, not organizations, are characters. While your nonprofit may well have a brand and be an active player, readers relate to human beings, not 501(c)3s. Your organization can play a role in the story, but highlight specific people who are making things happen.
  2. Make your protagonist struggle. If someone is to truly care about your characters, they need to see them stumble, make mistakes and suffer a bit. This makes them more human and relatable, plus it adds good tension and emotion to your story. Don’t shy away from things that didn’t go smoothly in the course of
    your stories; embrace them as obstacles you were able to ultimately overcome.
  3. Let them speak. People like quotes. We’re curious to hear what people have to say – and how they say it. Actual dialogue between two or more characters is ideal, but even a single quote (spoken or internal dialogue) helps to engage your reader and move the story along.
  4. Don’t forget the quirky stuff. Little details about  a character’s appearance, background, setting, speech and unexpected actions all make that person more realistic and interesting. This also helps make the story itself more memorable, since readers often latch on to “sticky,” unusual details.
  5. Create some type of antagonist. “Villains” may be a strong word – and concept –for many to consider using in their own work, but something tangible must standin the way of success. Otherwise it’s a boring story – or not one at all.
  6. “We can’t use real people because of privacy issues.” That can be true for many nonprofits, especially those working with children, victims, etc. But I find that these very people are often willing to have their stories told – we just have to ask. If a nonprofit explains how their story will be used and how it will benefit others, many beneficiaries of a particular service or organization approve the use of their story (even for their children). You can also change their name for privacy, or create a composite character/story based on common and real examples. If you use this strategy, however, you should clarify that for the reader, for credibility sake.

For full story…

Contact us Print Media Collective for help on your copy for your brochure or year-end campaign material.  We know how to tell a good story.