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9 Ways to Tell an Old Story in a New Way

Writing to Deadline by Donald Murray

If you’ve worked in marketing or fundraising a nonprofit for any length of time, you’re probably familiar with the problem of how to keep telling your nonprofit’s story in a fresh way. You’ve got grants to write, appeals to write, and newsletters to write so often it can be a challenge to keep the subject interesting for yourself, let alone your donors.

How can you keep people caring without compassion fatigue?

From Writing to Deadline by Donald Murray, check out these 9 tips.

I’ve rewritten them to be more effective for a nonprofit storyteller/marketer and fundraiser.

  1. Focus on a single person: if you’re a domestic violence nonprofit, show the story from the trauma nurse’s side, the arresting officer’s side, the social worker’s side, the neighbor who heard the fight, the underpaid therapist, the child of the woman, the batterer, and the woman herself.  There could be a hundred ways to view this story.
  2. Focus on the conflict behind the scenes that caused the conflict within the story
  3. Change the angle of the vision from the ED to the program person, from the client to the child of the client. Most stories are told from a predictable angle.  Move the angle of vision and you might see a new story in an old one.
  4. Put the story in historical, social, or political perspective
  5. Look ahead and see what may happen because of the event
  6. Focus on the background instead of the foreground-what happened to help a case manager make the call with a client
  7. Take the reader into the room with the person you are serving, so they are within the event taking place
  8. Describe the process of the story in detail, showing how the event evolved
  9. Put the story in context. Show how it relates, how it influences and is influenced by the world around it. If you’re a domestic violence nonprofit, word gets around the community that there is a place to go.

How can you write even better for your nonprofit? More tips from Donald include:

  1. Write out loud and read aloud, using the sound of the words and sentences to reinforce the meaning of the story.
  2. Tell the story with an interview with one or more people
  3. Create a dialogue between people. Let them reveal the story. George V. Higgins is fantastic at this. I especially like his “The Rat on Fire” book.
  4. Wonder at the commonplace.
  5. Use the tone of the people in the story-angry social worker, domestic violence survivor, resigned police, worried neighbor, diffident lawyers, court workers, etc.
  6. Vary the documentation. Maybe you use an anonymized police photo of someone who survived domestic violence. Maybe you use statistics in your region in a chart. You could also use anecdotes, quotes, or statistics.
  7. Write the story as a rhetorical form central to the story: a nursing report, a job application, a police report, a letter by a participant to a friend.
  8. Find the tension. What is being driven together, or forced apart?
  9. Irony: The dramatic difference between what should be and what is.
  10. Show readers how the story relates to them.

When you interview people to write your story for the newsletter or the appeal letter, Murray suggests:

  • Write down five questions the reader will ask
  • Pay attention to what is surprising you, what you are learning that you did not expect.
  • Listen to what people are saying and HOW they are saying it, gestures, pauses,  etc.
  • Observe the subject’s world and the subject in that world before interviewing them
  • Keep track of repeated events, images, or metaphors
  • Observe the subject at work, and how they react to people, how people react to them.
  • Ask the subject to describe themselves

If you’d like even more tips on how to write effectively for your nonprofit, take the Ultimate Guide to Year End Appeals

Your Ultimate Guide to Successful Year End Appeals e-course
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