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November 20 2011

6 Tips For Crafting Year-End Stories

So, you want to be a storyteller. Six tips to help you craft stories for impact.
6 Tips For Crafting Year-End Stories

Inject humanity.

And the 2011 buzzword for nonprofit marketing? What is Storytelling for $500, Alex. This year we’ve seen many posts on the what, why and how of storytelling. As you are pulling together last minute blog posts and year-end fundraising emails, here are a few tips to help you bring storytelling into your appeals.

  1. Get Organized. Are you staring at a blank sheet of paper / word document? Organize your thoughts with an A, B,C thread approach to help you get started. An A paragraph is the nut graph or lead, telling the value of the story to come or the who what why and where of your organization. Then move onto paragraph B, telling the laser-focused story of one person or one community with lots of juicy details. In paragraph C, tell how the work can't get done without donor support. Then, go back to the story and insert another B paragraph. You can finish off with another C paragraph. Alternate between paragraphs to keep the reader engaged. A,B,C,B,C.
  2. Think About Your Words. Don’t write for yourself, write for the reader. Don’t use tons of pretty adjectives, or overuse the word "very," or use words to show how smart you are but will send some people looking for a dictionary. Don’t sound too literary fiction, and don't overwrite. Keep it simple. Write tight and write clean. Tight and clean means every word is doing something in the sentence. Tight and clean means the omission of blob words (problem, situation, nature, planet). Be precise to resonate with your readers.
  3. Paint A Picture. Detailed descriptions help paint a picture in the readers mind. That in turn makes your story memorable and perhaps even evokes emotion with the reader. That in turn can help you raise money. Talk about people and places. Inject humanity everywhere you can.
  4. Keep it Conversational. Lose the third person. It's you and me. Take your program director or a team leader or a volunteer out for coffee and ask them what they love most about your organization. Write down their informal responses, how they describe their work, what makes them passionate about it, a story that touched them. Bring these phrases into your writing.
  5. Mix It Up. Make your writing fun to read. Extra-long, English-teacher-irritating, insider-joke hyphened modifiers can keep the reader’s attention. (Whisper a joke on the side. Or not.) Go short. Go long and change up subject-verb order. Repetition can be good. Comics tell jokes three times to make it funny. Three times. So it will be funny. Really super funny.
  6. Make A Connection. Find a common emotion or experience to connect with your audience: feeling like one person can’t make difference, help for those most in need, trends from the past, comfort food, what it means to be human, all for one and one for all. Go all Elizabeth Warren if you have to:

    "There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there — good for you!
    But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did. Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea — God bless. Keep a big hunk of it.
    But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along."


"The Art and Craft of Feature Writing," William E. Blundell, 1986, Plume, New York.
"Grammar Snobs are Great Big Meanies, A Guide To Language For Fun & Spite," June Casagrande, 2006, Penguin Books, New York.


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