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Storytelling Secrets From Pixar

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Powerful storytelling is one of the cornerstones of a great nonprofit fundraising strategy. Learning how to tell great stories, we can look to one of the masters of great stories: Pixar. If you’ve ever seen one of its award-winning films, you know the people at Pixar do a great job of getting the viewer invested with simple, clear, and powerful storytelling.

How can you use Pixar’s storytelling techniques to power up your nonprofit fundraising story?

Pixar Storytelling Framework

Here is the Pixar story framework in a nutshell.

  1. Once upon a time, there was ____________.
  2. Every day, _____________.
  3. Then one day, __________.
  4. Because of that, _________.
  5. Because of that, __________.
  6. Until finally, ________________.

Using this storytelling framework, you can structure your nonprofit’s story in an emotionally compelling way that draws people in and invests them in your mission.

Here’s the story applied to the Pixar film, Finding Nemo:

  1. Once upon a time there was … a widowed fish, named Marlin, who was extremely protective of his only son, Nemo.
  2. Every day … Marlin warned Nemo of the ocean’s dangers and implored him not to swim far away.
  3. One day … in an act of defiance, Nemo ignores his father’s warnings and swims into the open water.
  4. Because of that … he is captured by a diver and ends up in the fish tank of a dentist in Sydney.
  5. Because of that … Marlin sets off on a journey to recover Nemo, enlisting the help of other sea creatures along the way.
  6. Until finally … Marlin and Nemo find each other, reunite and learn that love depends on trust.

What you should note is that the story sets the stage with a way of being that is uncomfortable and unacceptable. Marlin lived in a constant state of fear and insecurity, and Nemo felt oppressed.

Then, something occurs that shifts the status quo, setting the stage for a change. In this case, Nemo decides he’s had enough of overprotection. The result is that the world is turned upside down, and the audience gets really invested to find out how things turn out.

Applying the Pixar Pitch to Your Nonprofit Storytelling

The Pixar Pitch is actually already well suited to storytelling for nonprofits because it focuses on a status quo that suddenly shifts.

For example:

  • Once upon a time, there was … unreliable electricity in rural Nepal, and because all the men had left the villages for the cities, it fell to the women to figure out how to get energy and still do all their other work.
  • Every day … women had to spend 8 hours of their day collecting firewood and would spend more than they could afford on kerosene, just so they could light their homes. Kids were getting sick from the smoke, and poverty was crushing the families.
  • Then one day … cheap, reliable solar technology was designed, and a pair of social entrepreneurs decided access to something as simple as reliable lighting was a universal right. With backgrounds in women’s rights and sustainably energy, they saw an opportunity to help the Nepalese villages.
  • Because of that … they decided to take on the challenge of energy poverty and began training women to become renewable energy technology distributors.
  • Because of that … women in rural Nepal gained a sense of empowerment as well as valuable business experience. They were able to generate revenue by leveraging their community connections while also directly alleviating the problem of energy poverty
  • Until finally … women-led families in rural Nepal escaped the literal darkness thanks to the hard work of women themselves. Kids could study at night. Women got hours of their day back. And a new social movement had been kicked off that would continue to grow and empower a new generation of South Asian women.

This is actually the story of a nonprofit I worked for, Empower Generation. The story told in this framework sets up a powerful sense of momentum and empowerment, essential for enlisting donors in your mission.

The end result doesn’t have to have been accomplished yet. Your “Until finally…” section can be your imagined outcome. You should still include it in your story because that is what you are asking donors to help you accomplish. You want to make it easy for them to imagine what the outcome of their help will be.

The Pixar Pitch came from a set of storytelling rules published by story artist Emma Coats. Check them out to get even more powerful storytelling ideas.

Try using the Pixar Pitch framework to tell the story of your nonprofit to get clarity and a sense of momentum for your fundraising efforts.

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