How to create compelling stories for your non-profit #storytelling #NFP

Are you looking for better ways for people to understand the work of your non-profit – then it might be time to consider developing your stories.

Two versions of the same story

As part of student nurses training under the hospital based training system students undertook some initial classroom training and then were allocated to practice on the wards in the hospital. This training model saw students gain extensive practical skills in delivering nursing care to patients.

I’d completed my initial training and began my first nursing shift as a student nurse. My first job on arriving at the ward was to shower my first patient ever, which, while confronting, I completed to the satisfaction of the ward Sister.


 I remember my first day on the wards, I was 17, young, nervous and totally awestruck by the ‘sisters’ in charge of the ward and terrified of the patients. I had only been in training 6 weeks so had no nursing skills and only a smattering of understanding of the theory. Yet here I was roaming the wards masquerading as a nurse. I felt like a phony!

My first ‘job’ was to help an elderly man have his morning shower. I am sure he was as mortified as I was at having to be washed by such a young girl. Despite this he went out of his way to make me feel at ease. He walked me through what the ‘other nurses’ did and didn’t show any hesitation in letting me help him with this intensely personal task.

This experience left me feeling immensely proud and honoured to be a ‘student’ nurse and I learnt how to have patience and listen to those for whom I was providing care – my lesson was taught by the best teacher there was – a patient. I had many more life and nursing lessons to learn over the course of my hospital based training but this one set the tone for the next 3 years.

Which of these stories shares the emotions of my day and gives you some insight into this training model?  The take home

sharing simple sensate stories stimulates successCreating compelling stories for you non profit

Stories can paint a picture and be more evocative of your non-profit’s work than straight statistics or explanation of WHAT you do can. They are often the best way to convey your message and have it stay with people. Stories can work wonders, in much the same was as can images and videos but these are not always suitable for conversations or presentations.

In telling your story it is more important to convey WHY and HOW you pursue your mission when you want to win people to your cause than explaining WHAT you do.

Storytelling doesn’t come naturally.  For most of us during we spend our  working week immersed in corporate speak, as we communicate with sponsors; develop funding submissions or business cases. We need to break away from this style of writing when we approach storytelling.

Building a story telling platform

There are a number of ways you can build a culture and environment that supports and encourages storytelling –but it does take commitment and time.

You will need to practice your story telling in your meetings and events. Consider asking staff to share a story from their work in the last month at you next meeting – capture it. This sharing of stories might also be useful at each Board meeting so they become familiar with the benefits and use of storytelling to spread your message.  This approach also allows others to ‘adopt’ these stories and re-tell the stories if they feel comfortable to.

Ask staff, volunteers,donors and clients to capture stories and share them with you as a way of giving feedback. You could prompt these with some open-ended questions

  • How did our support help you achieve your goal?
  • How have we improved/added to your life with our support?
  • How do you feel when you donate, volunteer with our organisation and what is one recent event that evoked this feeling?
  • Describe your most memorable client/support story? Why is it so memorable for you?

Build in supports and processes to encourage and capture stories from you staff, volunteers, donors and clients.

Listen to the rhythm of your non-profit and choose your time for telling stories – sometimes the facts and data will be appropriate to share while other times a story will achieve greater benefit.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Story telling

4 Do’s

  • Keep it simple
  • Use first person narrative
  • Personalise the story
  • Err on the side of brevity

4 Don’t’s

  • Use jargon
  • Make the organisation the centrepiece or hero
  • Include excessive data or detail
  • Talk about your staff unless its compelling

Some tools and sites to help you collect your stories

iPad Apps – visual storytelling for non profits

It doesn’t all have to be about prose – stories can be told using pictures and videos. Here are some great visual storytelling apps.

  • Storehouse – this is an iPad app that allows turns your iPad into a visual storytelling tool with which you can share your life experiences through a blend of text and multimedia content.
  • Pixotale – visual storytelling app. One beautiful example is The Blue City of Chefchaouen, Morocco  
  • Racontr – paid visual storytelling editing and publishing tool

What is your next step in your story telling journey for you non profit

To get you started how about crafting a story that shares the insights of

  • Your longest volunteer
  • A client you have helped and how you’ve helped them
  • Your most consistent donor – why they keep coming back

Stories can cross many boundaries and have the power to win you new friends and supporters – don’t ignore this opportunity.

So go out and create or capture your STORY

SStimulate imagination –  use Singular examples of the work you do, Sticky – make your story stick in their mind

TTranslate the outcomes of your work into a way that shows and shares emotions

OOffer hope or inspiration through your stories

R Re-live the experience with colour and detail – to enable others to go on the same journey

Y – Provide ‘Youtility’show how you’ve genuinely helped others.

Where to from here

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.”

Philip Pullman

I’d love to read some of your stories and see what success you have in encouraging storytelling in your non-profit, please leave a comment.

About the author – Helen Attrill, MBA

Hi, Just a bit about myself – I have over 26 years as a leader in the aged care and not for profit sector and have led the successful implementation of significant sector, profession and organisational change.

If you’re struggling with some aspect of change management or frustrated with your progress then maybe I can help please feel free to contact me by emailing me at

To find out more about my work visit Meet Helen page.