At NTEN’s Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC) I attended a terrific session about my favorite topic: storytelling. The session was called “It’s Not You, It’s Your Stories: Why Fundraisers are Failing at Storytelling – and What They Need to Change.”

It’s old news that stories are important in fundraising. Telling the emotionally compelling story of someone whose life is better because your organization is there to help will cause people to give more, right?


According to Steve Daigneault, VP eCampaigns for M+R Strategic Services we’ve all bought into the personal story trap. Most nonprofits will go to any lengths to share examples of people we help. But we don’t always use stories that cause people to want to take action.

There are two kinds of stories according to Steve & his team at M+R
Stories that explain – but don’t necessarily contain the crucial elements that make a story compelling
Stories that compel.

Stories that compel have something different. They have some unresolved tension and a place for the listener to see they can change the ending.

Here are two story examples I heard recently in my storytelling workshop. Which is more compelling for you?

Version #1:
I want to tell you about a young woman named Leticia. She has been beaten down in life. She grew up in New York to a crack addicted mother, and subject to awful situation after awful situation. Her mother even allowed her drug dealer to abuse Leticia in exchange for drugs. It was impossible for her to envision any sort of life for herself that didn’t include pain and obstacles. When I met her last summer she was a junior in high school and came in for our summer training. On that very first day I met her, Leticia was inspired by the positivity of being around our team and our organization. By the second day she had decided to make a change in her life and take on a positive outlook. She aced our assignments and showed up every single day for more. . .

Version #2:
Leticia is one of the students I can’t quite forget from our program last summer. She started her life in New York living in a rough community. Every adult in her life made choices for themselves that affected her. Even to the point where her Mom’s drug dealer abused her so her Mom could have more drugs. Leticia had no options for a different life until she and her mother moved to Minnesota for a better, clean life. That single change brought her into contact with us, a community making different choices. Leticia’s high school referred her to our program where she was surrounded by positive people who held her accountable for the choices she made each day. Throughout our summer program a tiny seed of hope for a different future began to grow in Leticia. The prize she was aiming for was a paid internship at a Fortune 500 company.

Without our energetic team surrounding her, helping her hone her public speaking skills, and modeling what good decisions are, Leticia would likely be just another statistic. I’m proud to tell you Leticia is one of 125 fortunate students we accept into our program. She’s now working at a Fortune 500 company as a paid intern. With the support from our team, something she’s never had before, she’s changed the trajectory of her life forever.

I invite you to take a look at your stories. Are you reporting on the facts about your client or are you making it possible for the reader or listener to see that they can help change the end of the story? Be sure to let me know if you make changes what happens.


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