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What I misunderstood about conflict in nonprofit storytelling

Nonprofit Storytelling

Have you ever heard people talk about how important it is to have conflict in your stories?

It took me a long time to understand what they actually meant by that.

Maybe I was being a bit daft, but something about the idea of needing conflict in my nonprofit stories just didn’t sit well with me.

You see, I didn’t want my stories to be about conflict. I wanted them to be inspirational and moving.

My goal was not to scare or shock people. I wanted them to feel excited about the work we were doing.

Why should I introduce conflict into my stories? Couldn’t I tell a good story without making conflict such a central part of the story?

It turns out I was wrong. You can’t tell a good story without conflict…

But it doesn’t mean stories have to be filled with rage and car chases.

You see, I completely misunderstood the concept behind conflict in storytelling.

And now that I understand what it really means I make sure there is conflict in all of my stories and they are so much better for it.

Here’s what conflict really means and how to do it right.

CLICK HERE to learn how to tell Emotional Nonprofit Stories!

What is conflict in nonprofit storytelling

You see, I used to think having conflict in my stories meant I was supposed to talk about fights and arguments, heated exchanges, and express the characters’ anger and outrage.

But this confused me, especially when I wanted to tell the story of our donors.

They weren’t angry. No one was yelling. There were no car chases.

And, while, yes, all of those elements do create conflict in your story, they are not required to create conflict.

They are options you can use to create conflict, but they are not the only options.

Instead of thinking you need to infuse conflict into your story, ask yourself this question:

“What is the obstacle that my hero is trying to overcome?”

Identify the challenge that is being faced and you’ve found the source of your conflict.

And no, it doesn’t need to be a conflict filled with action scenes and arguments. But there does need to be some challenge that your hero must overcome.

I’ll come back to this point in a minute, but the key here lies in the tension that is created when the audience doesn’t know if or how your hero will overcome the challenge.

This tension is essential. Without it, there is no story.

Maybe the challenge is figuring out how a homeless woman was going to get a job.

Or figuring out how to make sure this man can get life-saving surgery.

Maybe the challenge is finding a home for a rescued dog.

If you can identify the challenge or the obstacle, then you’ve identified the most important element of your story, the conflict.

CLICK HERE to learn how to tell Emotional Nonprofit Stories!

How to use conflict in nonprofit storytelling

Now here is how you unleash the full power of conflict in your stories. Once I learned this it changed everything for me.

The power of conflict is not found in the events of your story. The true power of conflict is in the emotions of your audience.

What really matters is that there is conflict in the minds of your audience.

Read that again and let it sink in. It’s important.

Conflict is what makes your audience ask,

“What is going to happen next?”

“How is this going to end?”

“What will they do?”

Not having the answer to these questions is what creates conflict in their mind.

It doesn’t have to be violent. It doesn’t have to be a car chase or an action sequence. You simply need to get your audience asking questions.

By creating conflict in the mind of your audience, you will hold their attention rapt until you bring that conflict to resolution.

CLICK HERE to learn how to tell Emotional Nonprofit Stories!

Conflict keeps your audience listening.

And learning how to create conflict in the minds of your audience will ensure that they continue to listen until you’ve said everything you want them to hear.

Once I understood this concept, everything about storytelling became so much easier for me.

I now knew that the most important part of the story was uncovering what aspect of the story would create the most conflict in the mind of my audience.

Once I understood that part of the story, I could then build the rest of the story around that point of conflict to ensure I was able to capture and maintain the attention of my audience throughout the story.

All I had to do was fill in the details of the rest of the ultimate nonprofit storytelling structure.

CLICK HERE to learn how to tell Emotional Nonprofit Stories!


  1. You can’t tell a good story without conflict
  2. Conflict is the challenge or obstacle your hero must overcome
  3. The conflict that matters most is found in the minds of your audience

Keep doing good work,
Jeremy Signature

8 comments… add one
  • Great material I learned a lot. Its kind of like the film school I never went to. Nicely done!

    • Jeremy

      Thanks, David!

  • Susan Penn

    Thanks for this very useful information – it makes total sense and hopefully will transform the way I tell impactful stories.

    • Jeremy

      I believe it will, Susan. Let me know how it goes.

  • Deborah Bissen

    Great suggestions on telling your nonprofit’s story!

    • Jeremy

      Thanks Deborah!

  • Thank you! Great article. I often struggle with deciding who’s story to tell, we have so many stories that we engage in on a daily basis. I will be keeping an eye on the conflict content in future tales!

    • Jeremy

      That is great to hear, Laura. I know it will improve your storytelling.

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