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Keys to Brilliant Nonprofit Storytelling Part 2: Consider Your Audience

Consider Your Audience

Welcome to Part 2 of our series on the elements of great of storytelling for nonprofit fundraising, from the Storytelling for Business course by Kevin Allison at the StoryStudio.org. In Part 1, I covered the essentials of a story: emotional arc and a person to relate to.

Part 2 is about the second most important element: your audience.

What is Important to Your Listener?

The first thing to consider when deciding how to adjust your storytelling to suit your audience is what is important to them. What drives them? What kinds of things might motivate them to support your cause?

If you are pitching to a group of investors, they might be more interested in the social entrepreneurship element of your project and story.

  • Choose an emotional arc they can relate to. Perhaps the journey from frustration to empowerment or the feeling of solving a big problem.
  • Choose an entrepreneurial character. The focus of your story might be on the founder or creator of your nonprofit and their struggles bringing their dream to life, with less emphasis on the people being helped.

On the other hand, if you are hoping to attract a more emotionally driven demographic, you would need a different approach:

  • Your emotional arc might emphasize security, connection, or stability for your beneficiaries.
  • Your character might be the family members you help, or the children who will benefit.

What Does Your Listener Think of You?

The other important element to consider is what prejudgements your listener will bring to the table. They will have certain ideas about your organization or you as an individual. Some of these might help convince them to donate — you are really passionate about what you do — and some might not — you are inexperienced.

You probably have some idea of what your audience thinks about you, but even if you don’t, spending some time thinking about your weak points can help you address whatever concerns your listeners might have.

With an idea of what your listeners think of you, you can adjust the telling of your story to address these concerns.

  • If they think you are too idealistic, share something that shows you solving a problem in a pragmatic way.
  • If they think you are inexperienced, share something that shows you learn fast.
  • If they think you are jaded, share an event in which you got really emotionally invested.
  • If they think you are too privileged to understand the problems you’re trying to solve, share something that shows you struggling with hardship.

The key isn’t to beat the issue over the head, but rather to emphasize certain things and downplay others. It can be as simple as spending more time on a particular event in the story.

Context is Key

The last element to consider is the context in which you’ll be giving your pitch. A story shared via an online video is much different than one you are telling to an audience at a community dinner.

Knowing your context will give you the chance to adjust your story to make the most of the time, the level of sharing and intimacy that will be appropriate, and, of course, the medium.

  • In a video, you can use images to convey emotions and events, but you may be limited in the time you have available. So focus on the most important points.
  • In a presentation or speech, you may have more time to spend developing the drama, thus heightening the audience’s emotional investment, but you need to master the ability to paint a scene with words.
  • In an elevator pitch scenario, you have minimal time, so you must know the skeleton of your story and be able to convey all the important elements of structure in a minute or less.

Knowing how much to share is crucial, as you can see. Sharing details and sensations will draw your listeners in, but it can take time. Staying high level with narrative will get your point across faster, but it lacks the emotional connection.

Check back for Part 3: Scene vs. Narrative to learn how to use these types of storytelling to manage pacing and draw in your audience.

If you’d like to go even more in-depth on great storytelling, you can sign up for the Udemy course here. Use promo code StoryStudio20% for a 20% discount.

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