How to write compelling content: The foundations of storytelling for not-for-profits

It is hard to forget a well-told story. The kind of stories that leave us with some sort of lasting emotion, whether that be confusion, surprise, anger, or hope. They really have the power to imprint in the mind for years. Stories are remembered 22x more often than standalone facts.

A great piece of writing weaves together an impactful story that can draw in new supporters, inspire action, and even shift social norms towards equity and inclusion. Each channel of communication your not-for-profit uses is an opportunity to bring your story closer to the audience’s heart—and therefore deep-seated in their memory. Honed writing skills, informed by a sound content strategy, will form in stakeholders a stronger understanding for what your organization wants to accomplish with their support.

Your words must speak loud and dig deep: authentically capture people’s attention through storytelling.

Know where you’ve come from, know where you’re going

Jumping right into the storytelling process will leave you and your audience lost. Creating unique, attractive content about your organization is all about knowing what your ideal impact looks like, from start to finish.

Step 1: Know your ideal impact
It is poor practice to begin writing a story without having a picture of how it may end. Really pin down what you want your written communication to accomplish for your not-for-profit. Do you want to generate active online communities on social media? What are your fundraising goals for this year? Bounce ideas around with your team and make sure you all agree.

Step 2: Drum up content that matters to your unique audience
Just like children’s book authors know to steer clear from adult themes, not-for-profit content creators must know which topics are hot, and not, for their audience. It is critical to deeply understand your audience’s needs in order to meet, and exceed, their expectations. Here is an example of two kinds of content strategies that can be adapted for nonprofit marketing:

  • Attracting new audiences: curate topical, newsworthy content with the purpose of boosting your visibility now. This content strategy will see outcomes like high share counts for articles or blog posts.
  • Attracting audiences that stick around: focus on timeless topics that will snowball support for your organization into the future. This strategy will bring results such as steady, sustainable traffic to your website.

Dust off your bookshelf and get researchin’!

Now that you have a clear strategy, the next big step before sharing your story is to establish your credibility as creator of good content. Whether you are writing a short social media post or an entire newsletter, refer to up-to-date resources on your topic. Even better, if your not-for-profit is scientifically-oriented and conducts original research, then reference your own research! Organizations that conduct and publish original research are 41% more likely to report strong results, such as higher website and social media engagement.

Regardless if the research you use is home-grown or not, the benefits of being aware of the key issues surrounding your organization’s niche area of impact go beyond establishing credibility for your organization. Researching keywords to improve search engine optimization will also increase visibility and awareness of your organizational mission. Surprisingly, 17% of blog post creators never research keywords.

Narrative change and storytelling

While increasing the immediate support for your not-for-profit is a great reason to invest in better copywriting, there is an even more exciting opportunity for social change through storytelling. When you trickle bits of information about the people and emotions that exist behind your work, how you present that information is called a narrative.

Essential to furthering anti-racism and all forms of othering and discrimination is rewriting dominant narratives. Make sure you are constantly aware of your position—-your identity, motivations, wants, and needs—as the organization creating a certain story. When you are able to think critically about how you frame your organization’s stories, then you can begin to understand how audiences may perceive the issues you are trying to bring to light: how can you develop strategic messaging that shifts dominant narratives? Surprisingly, more than half (56%) of organizations surveyed by The Communications Network in 2019 reported diversity, equity, and inclusion as a more of an implicit component of their organization’s communication strategy.

Spend the time to make your commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion an explicit part of your communications. What sort of language is your entire organization committed to using in all forms of content? How can your team go beyond a diversity statement and take that extra step to integrate inclusive communication into the heartbeat of your organization?


Creating compelling, storytelling content takes time and expertise. Phil can help you reach your organizational goals more effectively and more easily. Don’t hesitate to contact us today!