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The 7 Guidelines for Telling Your Organization’s Story

Posted by on November 3rd, 2009
Posted in Blog, Nonprofit Copywriting, Nonprofit Fundraising, Nonprofit Messaging, Storytelling    Tags: , , , , , , , ,

1. Remind people of the problem
Don’t take for granted that your audience already understands the problem your organization is working to solve. Be clear and direct.

Even the most basic issues like education, global warming and feeding the poor are complex at their core. Be very specific about the exact problem facing the exact population you serve. Then speak and write in plain language.

2. Avoid using acronyms, abbreviations, and jargon
Referring to your organization or program by its initials is a mistake. If your name is too long, change it. Every time you use letters instead of the actual name you miss an opportunity to remind people of the business you’re in.

3. Focus on benefits instead of features
Features are what your organization does. Benefits are the solutions and positive outcomes that result from your features.

Benefits motivate donors; features do not.

Rather than telling people about your scholarship program and how much money you distribute, focus on the way your community has changed because of your scholarship program: the lives that have changed, and the economic health of your community.

Your scholarship program is a feature. Changed lives and a better community are the benefits.

Your organization solves problems. Talk about the problems you solve, not the way you solve them. Donors give money not to processes (features) but to outcomes and solutions (benefits).

4. Keep it simple
When you come into contact with someone for the first time, whether in print or in person, it’s tempting to share everything there is to know about your organization.

Successful messaging demands that you stay focused on a high-level idea and mention only those things that help convey your point. Be disciplined about what to share. Don’t overwhelm people with too much information.

5. Engage the reader
Great communication addresses the receivers’, not the sender’s, point of view. When you want to get someone’s attention, use the second person “you” and speak directly to that person’s concerns.

Consider the difference between these two examples:

  • Marin Education Fund needs donations to give students a chance to fulfill their college dreams.


  • When you give a gift to Marin Education Fund, you give a student the chance to fulfill her college dreams.

Which example is more engaging? Which organization are you more likely to support?

6. Highlight people not programs
Studies show that we are much more likely to respond to the emotional story of a person’s challenge and success than to statistics proving the efficacy of the program designed to serve him.

We can learn about a college preparation program, but hearing Sarah share her story of getting into the college of her dreams after participating in an after-school mentoring program makes us cheer for Sarah and all that she’s accomplished. We know the program is successful because we watched Sarah succeed.

There are, of course, appropriate times to share numbers. Some people need rational data to reinforce what they feel emotionally. When sharing data in a story context, though, use only those numbers that are truly surprising, and frame numbers in a way that helps people conceptualize what those numbers really mean.

For example, reporting that 400 people die daily from a disease isn’t nearly as frightening as saying that the number of people dying daily is the equivalent of a 747 crashing and killing everyone aboard—every single day.

7. Be consistent
To ensure that your story is told in the most effective way possible, create a list of sound bites—two- to three-word phrases—that staff and board can use over and over again to tell your story. Consistent and repeated use of the sound bites, woven in to the natural speaking style of the representative using them, will send a clear message through all messengers.

Learn more
You can download the complete Mission Minded handout on this topic from our website.


Zach Hochstadt is a Mission Minded Founding Partner and runs Mission Minded’s Denver office, leading the company’s creative teams in the areas of message development, writing, graphic design, and web design and development.

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5 responses to “The 7 Guidelines for Telling Your Organization’s Story”

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