Direct Mail, Marketing and Communications

“Heart String” stories: Telling Your Organization’s Story

“If you want people to understand and identify with a complicated concept, tell a story about it.”

-Donald Miller, Author and Storyteller



This video demonstrates that how you tell your story will change how people will respond – and will result in donations to your nonprofit organization.


Andy Goodman, author of Why Bad Presentations Happen to Good Causes, says that “sometimes you may find it particularly difficult to explain what you do in a concise and compelling way.”


In his storytelling workshop that I attended in 2013, Andy shared a story that demonstrated a number of facts about welfare. After the story, he shared the actual statistics – that did not actually line up with the story. However, what made the greatest impression on the audience and the message that they walked away with – was the story.


As nonprofits, we need to develop our “heart string” stories that help convey the programs we produce and the statistics we are trying to change or increase.


How do you write a good story?


According to Donald Miller, author and storytelling guru, “stories are terrific tools for communications. They instruct, provide rest, give us inspiration and help us learn empathy for others.” Stories are “a sense-making device.”


If you want to convey how your organization helps the community or a certain population, tell a story about an individual you were able to help with your services.


When telling the story, clarity is key. Miller says that “within a story, life seems to be clear” but cautions that the storyteller that “the more a story rambles and wanders, the more it feels like real life and the less people will engage.”


To gain clarity, you need a structured plot.


Miller’s storytelling formula:

  1. A character has a problem.
  2. Then meets a guide who gives them a plan and calls them to action.
  3. That action either results in comedy or tragedy.


In the case of your nonprofit “heart string” story, the guide is your nonprofit (services or the program manager implementing the programs) the action will result in success for the character.


I agree with Miller that, “good stories don’t happen by accident. They are formed and molded and edited so they are clean and clutter free.” I encourage you to spend time writing out your heart string stories – whether the story will be told live in front of a group of potential donors or through a compelling direct mail letter. Rehearse the story so that it is clear, concise and to the point. Don’t ramble and keep it short.

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