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6 Storytelling Lessons Your Nonprofit Can Learn From Donald Trump

Tina Jepson
Tina Jepson

If you work at a nonprofit, chances are you do your fair share of storytelling and that you’ve followed every bit of traditional advice. You know to follow a tried-and-true plotline, use emotion-evoking words and finish with a happy ending or offer a solid solution.

Yes, all of these tips do work. But, there’s more that can be done to really get your audience excited about your story — just follow the lead of presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Love him or hate him, you have to admit that Donald Trump sure has captured the hearts and minds of many supporters.

All politics aside, Donald Trump has used his platform to bring to light some of the issues he and his followers believe are impacting the United States. He does this passionately, without fear or censor.

Here are 6 storytelling lessons your nonprofit can learn from Donald Trump:

1) You Can Dominate With Enthusiasm

Do you want to get your audience excited about what your nonprofit is doing? Use as much enthusiasm as you can to bring the point home.

At least, that’s what works for Mr. Trump.

Let’s first look at an example. Very softly, speak the words: “Oh look, a fire.” With this tone, you are likely referring to a nice, warm wood-burning hearth or something equally as pleasant.

Now, as loud and with as much energy as you can muster, say the same words. Just the energy in your voice is probably enough to get your blood pumping and ready to evacuate the room.

That’s what enthusiasm can do. It can turn a small, contained and beautiful fire into an inferno, and that’s what Donald Trump is so successful at doing.

He dominates the podium and debate stages with his determined enthusiasm about everything that he’s saying.

Try incorporating that same enthusiasm into your storytelling. If you are writing a story, use bold, energetic statements and action verbs that convey excitement and suspense. In pictures and videos, use striking visuals that get your audience to feel an emotion and be compelled to act immediately.

“Want to get your audience excited about what your nonprofit is doing? Use as much enthusiasm as you can…” tweet this

2) It’s Not All In the Details

Donald Trump doesn’t care about the details. When he’s onstage, it’s all about sweeping statements and generalities, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing when telling a story when you have a limited amount of time.

He understands that what people want is to feel. And, that isn’t done by giving detail after detail about how he’s going to implement policy or run the government. Instead, he speaks of the big picture and overarching visions.

How is he going to solve problems with illegal immigration? It’s simple– he’s going to build a wall. How will he do this?

“I will build a great wall—and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me.”

When writing fundraising appeals or for your website’s homepage, use Trump’s strategy for your story by telling a clear and simplified story that focuses on the big picture. If you want to go into detail, do so in a specific place on your website such as an “Our Stories” tab.

Ultimately, you want your audience to understand the problems facing your clients and how your nonprofit is solving them.

3) Use Power Words

Nothing screams success like power words, and Donald Trump uses them every chance he gets to assert dominance and power.

Most of Mr. Trump’s popular words and phrases are quite authoritative, including “absolutely destroy” and “fight.” With words such as these, he conveys a sense of power and authority.

Of course, your nonprofit certainly doesn’t want to tell a negative, violent story, and really, that’s not the point of using power words. Instead, consider why politicians such as Donald Trump use such strong language – it is because they want to prove that they have the ability to make change happen.

Using power words in your nonprofit’s story can be as simple as saying “We will fight to destroy poverty in our community” and “Let’s defeat HIV/AIDs.” It is important that your nonprofit is the key to solving problems and make people’s lives better because you have the power to do so.

4) Keep Your Narratives Black And White

You can easily argue that Donald Trump is quite a polarizing figure. Voters either love his ideas or loathe them, and that is because a lot of the emotions that he brings out in people is a result of his use of black and white narratives.

You are either his closest pal, or his absolute enemy. Once Mr. Trump determines his enemy (illegal immigrants, Ted Cruz, Hillary Clinton, politicians in general), he rallies his supporters and fights it with all his will.

Let’s look at a statement recently posted on his Twitter page:

In this quote, Donald Trump uses “until I put him down” to stress the severity of his belief that he is stronger and more capable than his opponent (the enemy).

Black and white narratives can, and should, be included in your nonprofit’s story whenever possible. Great stories of all shapes and sizes include a plotline that involves a battle between the protagonist and the antagonist.

Whether it’s a struggle between good and evil, poverty and motivation to get out of poverty, or alcoholism and recovery, you need to prove that success was only possible because the ‘enemy’ was defeated.

5) Get Your Audience Involved

Have you noticed how well Donald Trump rallies his crowds? You may be wondering how he could get everyone so excited and motivated. Well, aside from his authoritative and enthusiastic presence, he does a very good job at including his audience in on his speeches.

Donald Trump has mastered the ability to turn broad statements into questions, making the audience feel part of the solution he is proposing.

“Are you ready to make America great again?” “Are the Trump rallies the greatest?”

He also uses big hand gestures and inclusive language, referring to ‘we’ every chance that he gets.

Incorporate inclusion into your story to make your nonprofit’s audience feel as they can be part of the solution.

“Incorporate inclusion into your story to make your nonprofit’s audience feel as they can be part of the solution…” tweet this

Don’t just refer to the work of your organization, include statements and questions that include your donor/audience like “We can all bring change to this community by taking action” or “Do you know how many children’s lives will be touched by a gift of $20?” A focus on how your audience is an integral part of the process will help bring your story closer to home.

6) Don’t Be Afraid To Say What You Need To Say

Donald Trump doesn’t hold back on his thoughts. He speaks his mind with what appears to be honesty and conviction. He is not afraid to ruffle feathers to get his point across.

Your nonprofit should do the same thing when telling a story. Yes, every effort should be made to stay politically and socially correct, but also remember to stay true to your mission. If you feel like an aspect of your story needs to be told, but it feels impolite or “politically incorrect”, do it anyway.

Sometimes, nonprofits work with very sensitive subject matter such as abuse, violence, homelessness, and drug use. Hearing stories related to these subjects may make your audience feel uncomfortable.

But, sharing stories with information about these topics is a sure-fire way to show the true work of your organization and evoke enough emotions to cause your audience to act.

What is the main lesson for nonprofits?

Donald Trump is controversial, but he also has a large and allegiant group of supporters that passionately follow him. How? The man has the ability to tell a powerful, convincing story. Go out and tell your nonprofit’s story like Donald Trump would. Stick to your truth as enthusiastically and unapologetically as you can.

“Stick to your truth as enthusiastically and unapologetically as you can…” tweet this

For more lessons nonprofits can learn from this year’s political race, check out 4 Lessons Nonprofits Can Learn From Bernie Sanders’ Fundraising Strategy.

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