• Nonprofit Learning Lab

Choosing the Right Qualitative Story

Updated: Aug 1, 2019

This is a guest blog post and is being posted with permission from Jan Schwaid and Jessica Payne, Founder of Mockingbird Analytics


We've talked so much about the importance of data that your mind is likely steeped with facts and figures. With all those numbers swimming around in your brain, it can sometimes prove difficult to surface the fact that there are personal stories at the root of everything you do.


Sure, numbers are convincing; they’re easy to chart and compare, and touted correctly, they can be impressive and show major change. However, the truth is, an endless stream of numbers can also make your audience’s eyes gloss over after a while. If you want to inspire your current and future donors, you’re going to need to go deeper than just the facts, ma’am.


Your goal here is simple: empathy. How can you get your target audience to empathize with your specific nonprofit and the work it has done? Using personal #stories about individuals can help focus your messages. Give your donors a poignant anecdote to which they can relate.


Know Your Audience: When you’re seeking out tales of success within your organization, make sure to diversify and seek out different types of stories from different types of people. Take a look at your donors’ demographics: their locations, jobs, ages, etc, and use that information to determine what kind of content would be most impact. How will your audience connect with the subject of your story? Target your donors with stories tailored to their lives.


Don’t Spare the Details: Make your stories pop by including as many personal and visual details as you can. Set the scene by including vivid descriptors and emotional language. Provide back-story for your case, and show how and why life is improving due to your nonprofit’s intervention. Make it moving and heartfelt; you want your audience to truly connect with the story in a meaningful way and realize that their donations can help make real changes in the lives of others.


Stay Genuine: Your tone should be deeply personal but not saccharine. Don’t frame your examples as “sob stories;” you want to induce empathy, not pity. It’s also easier to turn down requests for money when the pleas feel insincere or, even worse, untrue. Which leads us to…


Be Truthful: What you write on the Internet will live on forever. Research your #story before emailing it to everyone you know, and don’t stretch facts for effect. If your story is exaggerated, someone will find out eventually, and the credibility of your organization will take a major hit.


Make It Urgent: Inspire your audience to immediate action. What could have happened in your story if your organization had not intervened? What happens to other people in similar situations? Why is it necessary for your donors to act now? You may want to use a relatable statistic to drive home your point.

Now that you’ve crafted a personal, detailed account that will resonate with your donors, give your charts and bar graphs a brief rest, and spread your story far and wide!



A representative from Mockingbird Analytics is presenting at the Nonprofit Learning Lab's Phoenix Nonprofit Institute on May 23, 2017. Check out their training workshop!

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