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The 5 secrets of great nonprofit storytelling

Nonprofit Storytelling

You’ve probably heard a lot about the power of storytelling and what it can do for your nonprofit.

But I’ve also seen a lot of nonprofits throw their hands up in the air in frustration because storytelling just doesn’t seem to get them anywhere.

It’s not your fault. You see, just telling stories isn’t enough.

You need to know HOW to tell stories.

There are 5 storytelling secrets that will turn your ineffective stories into powerful, emotion bombs and drive your audience to take action.

Master these 5 secrets of great nonprofit storytelling and you will truly see the power that your story holds.

Secret #1 of Great Nonprofit Storytelling

The number one goal of nonprofit storytelling is to give your audience an emotional experience.

You need to make them FEEL something.

If your audience doesn’t feel the emotions you intend then your story has failed.

To ensure your story makes your readers feel something, you need to give them a hero they can empathize with.

The success off your storytelling will depend entirely on your ability to get your audience to empathize with your hero. 

Every great story ever told is about one person, the hero.  This may seem obvious but it is often forgotten.

When you tell your stories, how often are you talking about “our beneficiaries” or “our donors” or “our approach?”  These words are not telling the story of one person.

These words are telling the story of a collective, and as soon as you start talking about a group of people, you are missing your opportunity to tell a great story.

Tell the story of one person.

Here’s why…

It is difficult for people to generate empathy for a group or a collective. Empathy comes from identifying with ONE person, getting into the shoes of that ONE person, and feeling the same emotions as that ONE person.

If you want people to feel something, give them one person to empathize with. Tell them the story of your hero.

CLICK HERE to learn how to tell Emotional Nonprofit Stories!

Secret #2 of Great Nonprofit Storytelling

Now you have your hero, and you know you are going to tell the story of that one person.

You know you want your audience to empathize with that hero throughout the story.

How do you make sure your audience is empathizing with your hero?

The first step is to tell the story with vivid imagery by engaging all 5 senses.

Put your audience in the story. Humans have fantastically vivid imaginations.

Use that to your advantage by engaging all 5 senses in your storytelling.

The more vivid you can be with the details of what your hero sees, hears, smells, tastes, and feels, the more your audience’s imagination will go to work.

They should literally be putting themselves right next to your hero with their minds eye.

Give them the details they need to complete the picture. Put them at the center of the conflict in the story.

CLICK HERE to learn how to tell Emotional Nonprofit Stories!

Secret #3 of Great Nonprofit Storytelling

How do you ensure that the audience feels the emotions you want them to feel?

Here is the secret…

Make your audience empathize with your hero by using the power of suggestion. Tell the story with explicit emotion.

Again, it may sound simple and obvious, but how often do we assume that people feel the same way we do about a situation?

How often do we assume that the emotion is implied and, therefore, sufficient?

Probably more often than you realize.

If you are struggling with developing empathy for your hero, review your story and make sure you are explicit with emotion.

It is not enough to provide the context. Tell the audience exactly how the hero feels.

Tell them when your hero feels afraid and why they feel that way.

Tell them when your hero feels lost and why they feel that way.

By doing so, you are actually telling the audience how to feel and what to think.

This is the power of suggestion.

State the explicit emotions of your hero and you will foster the same emotions in your audience.

This will strengthen their empathy with your hero.

And the more empathy they have with your hero the more vested they will be in the outcome of the story.

CLICK HERE to learn how to tell Emotional Nonprofit Stories!

Secret #4 of Great Nonprofit Storytelling

There is a storytelling secret that is well understood in the hills of Hollywood but often neglected outside of the entertainment industry.

Probably because if too many people understood it some of the magic of movies would disappear.

You see, there is a clear structure for great storytelling. It is present in every great story ever told.

It is called the Hero’s Journey and it is pretty much the road map for every Hollywood blockbuster ever written.

Now, you can Google the hero’s journey and learn all about the structure so I’m not going to get into it all here.

What you really need to understand about the hero’s journey is this:

All great stories create tension, then build that tension to maintain the audience’s interest, and only near the end of the story do they release the tension. 

The entire purpose of a story structure is to create and sustain tension.

The structure helps you grab people’s attention and hold onto it for as long as you need to before you bring your story to a conclusion.

Using the ultimate nonprofit storytelling structure will help you master the skill of holding your audience rapt as you let your story unfold.

Secret #5 of Great Nonprofit Storytelling

The final secret to great nonprofit storytelling is that you have to know what emotions drive action.

There are very specific emotions you need to evoke in your audience if you want them to take action.

If you evoke the wrong emotions then your story will do the opposite of what you intend.

The emotions that drive action are: Awe, joy, inspiration, excitement, amusement, anger, anxiety, and disgust.

Emotions that drive inaction: Sadness, apathy, contentment, confusion, shame, guilt, and satisfaction

What emotions are you evoking in your storytelling?

Make sure they are high arousal emotions that stir people to take action.

CLICK HERE to learn how to tell Emotional Nonprofit Stories!


  1. Tell the story of one person
  2. Engage all 5 senses
  3. Be explicit with emotions
  4. Use structure to create and hold tension
  5. Evoke the emotions that drive action

Keep doing good work,
Jeremy Signature


10 comments… add one
  • Excellent and I thank you!

    • Jeremy

      Thanks for reading, Carolyn!

  • Thanks for keeping it simple!
    I’m inspired

    • Jeremy

      That’s great to hear, Cheryl. Turn that inspiration into action!

  • Great tips!! Thank you for simplifying the process and detailing which emotions drive action!! I am very passionate about the non-for-profit I work for because I have received healing from it myself.. Now to let others know!!

    • Jeremy

      I’m glad you found this helpful, Rosemary. Best of luck with your storytelling!

  • Ayala Gottfeld

    Very helpfull and inspiring. Thanks.

    • Jeremy

      Glad to hear you found this helpful, Ayala!

  • Hi Jeremy,
    Thanks for a great article! Your review of active and inactive emotions was very insightful. Your reference to The Hero’s Journey was also helpful. Keep up the good work!

    • Jeremy

      Thanks Alicea. Glad to hear this has been helpful and I hope you’re able to put it to good use!

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