presentations, storytelling

Creating Stories that Compel: Video Storytelling for Nonprofits

0 Comments 17 November 2014

Image courtesy of Kenno McDonnell, Creative Commons license

Image courtesy of Kenno McDonnell, Creative Commons license

One of my big “aha!” insights into storytelling came to me when I read this fact:

Personal stories and gossip make up 65% of our daily conversations

All day long, what do I do? I tell stories. As humans, we tell stories in order to make events that have happened to us relatable, we re-tell stories we’ve heard because they are memorable, and we tell stories to make sense of our world. Why wouldn’t we do the same when explaining a need, cause, or event?

Last month, I offered an interactive workshop on video storytelling that supports fundraising for mission-driven organizations. Many of these organizations will participate in a 24-hour giving event on December 10, called Valley Gives. Most of the participants had never created a fundraising video, and the purposes of this workshop were to find the stories organizations already have on hand, understand what makes a great video story for fundraising, and craft a storyline that motivates.

Video can be intimidating! I wanted to break down the workshop into digestible,”do-able” segments for sourcing and developing a fundraising video concept.

Sight the obstacles and opportunities

So many times, we know that there are great stories out there, but we aren’t finding out about them. I asked workshop participants to turn to the person sitting next to him or her, and discuss both sides of the story sourcing environment:

Screen Shot 2014-11-16 at 7.51.52 PMNot surprisingly, it took a while to get the attention of the audience after the discussion period had concluded…

Know the Elements of a Strong Story

Of all the elements of a strong story, three that are vitally important to a fundraising ask:

  • A relatable main character
  • We feel sympathy and empathy
  • There are stakes at play

In a fundraising video, you want to make sure that the viewer understands the stakes involved (lives at risk, a town at risk, safety at risk) and the specific goal that will reduce the stakes. Marc Pitman, one of my fundraising heroes, writes that every fundraising pitch should have a “phrase that pays.” When filming your video story, be on the lookout for the phrase that pays, and spotlight it!

During the workshop, we viewed Alex’s Lemonade Stand’s Slaying Childhood Cancer, and the Shutesbury, MA Library’s Where Would You Be Without Your Library? fundraising videos. After viewing both videos, we considered whether or not both videos included all the elements of a strong story (slide 23, below) and importantly, who is the main character in the library’s video? Can you guess?

Don’t Forget the Four Stories You Have Right Now

If you’re having trouble thinking of a storyline, use one of the four types of stories that every organization has on hand: the founding story, stories about its people (the stakeholders), stories about what your organization does (micro-focused around a person), and stories of your impact. Folks in the room paired off to pitch stories and get ideas from each other. What I loved most about this part was listening to participants support each others’ story ideas, and push them to develop those ideas further.

Think About Visual Elements

Whether you develop a “small moment story” by video, graphic, or photo, visual impact is critical to grabbing attention and keeping it. From paying attention to the video cover still, to pairing photos with words, we discussed what visual elements gives stories the staying power needed to grab attention and convert viewers to donors. Fundraising stories should be shared more than once a year!

Enjoy the presentation. If you have something to add, feel free to share it in the comment section below.


Valley Gives is a 24-hour giving event, hosted by The Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts, which will take place this December 10, 2014. Since 2012, Valley Gives has grown to include 351 participating organizations, which raised $2 million in 2013.



Debra Askanase is an experienced digital engagement strategist, non-profit executive, and community organizer. She works with mission-driven organizations to develop digital strategies and campaigns that engage, create trust, and move stakeholders to action. Debra speaks at conferences worldwide on the intersection of technology, social media, and nonprofit organizations.

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