How Do I Know If My Story Is Actually A Story?

How Do I Know If My Story Is Actually A Story?


I once spent an entire year studying storytelling. I wanted to understand why some stories held more power than others. What made them different? I looked at a lot of stories. And I saw things that people were trying to sell as stories that were totally missing narrative. So here are some guidelines that will help you know if your story is actually a story. The way Aristotle describes story is an interesting character with weaknesses and strengths confronts a problem and tests her ability to overcome challenges. If she fails the story is a tragedy. If she succeeds the story gets a happy ending.

I gotta go with Aristotle on this one. And I’d also say that every story has a beginning, middle, and an end. All events within a story are included to serve a specific purpose. If you've followed my work at NGOStorytelling for awhile, you probably already know that I like formulas. In nonprofit storytelling, I usually use the CCCRC narrative formula:


You have eight seconds to get your audiences attention. So I lead all of my stories with an emotion hook. Do not lead with a fact. Facts connect with the head while emotional content connects to the heart. They also often convey large numbers that your viewers can’t relate to. You slap a fact on the front of a story and you are liable to loose viewers before you ever get them to the best parts.



Every story from Disney to Grimm’s fairy tale starts with a main character. People are more likely to relate to a person than they are to a program so when possible focus on a single person. This is becoming more important as 72% of donors in the United States are individual people. So take this as an opportunity for your donors to find connection with your story character.



Show the conflict that your character is facing and explain the ways that they have tried to overcome that conflict. Sharing how your character has worked to solve their problems and showing why they still need help builds rapport and shows character development to the viewer. Be sure to include the good, the bad, and the ugly.



Show how your nonprofit has come up with a solution to your character’s problem and what can be done to implement it with the viewers help. If your resolution is simply that your nonprofit has a great solution, people not feel like they are really needed in implementing that solution. Open that door for your donor and make them the hero in the story.


Call to Action

Now you’ve built a wonderful narrative and you need to tell your viewer exactly what you want them to do. This can be anything from donating, to volunteering, to sharing a post on social media but be specific. Tell your donors exactly what twenty dollars could do for your nonprofit and they are more prone to give. Just asking them to give isn’t enough.


Finally, let’s talk about what isn’t a story. I see so many missed opportunities for great storytelling. A story doesn’t have to be a novel. You can have big impact with a short paragraph and powerful images.

For the purpose of this article, I’ve created some samples of things I see regularly that aren’t stories. Side by side I’ve included real stories with the images. I’m not saying you can’t use these kinds of posts but I want to point out that most of the time the story has more impact.












Now we want to hear from you. What key components make a story for you? And what do you do struggle with when putting them together? Just send us a comment below or send us an email at hello@ngostorytelling.

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