Skip to content
We are now Bonterra

How to tell your nonprofit story: An introductory guide

March 24, 2022
These nonprofit professionals are looking at sticky notes on a glass wall as they plan how to promote their nonprofit's story.

For nonprofit organizations, the key to effective marketing is a powerful story. At the end of the day, powerful, emotional stories are what attract supporters to your purpose and motivate them to get involved. Facts and statistics are clear ways to demonstrate your nonprofit’s impact, but weaving them into a story will make them memorable.

Whether your nonprofit is looking to enhance its fundraising efforts, recruit more volunteers, or increase awareness of your purpose, a well-told story can go a long way toward achieving your goals. 

To help your organization enhance its storytelling across all communications and supporter interactions, we’ll walk through each element of a story arc and how best to apply them to your nonprofit.

Elements of a nonprofit story arc

It can be surprisingly easy to write a powerful narrative. In fact, by understanding and following the tried-and-true elements of effective storytelling, your nonprofit can craft a compelling story of its own. Let’s take a closer look at each key point within a story arc.


The beginning of any story sets the scene for events to come, introducing readers to the characters, current situation, and setting. This element provides the context readers will need to know for them to follow the rest of the narrative. In most stories, the exposition will present the status quo before a major event occurs, such as your nonprofit getting involved, that leads to the dramatic changes you describe later on.

If your nonprofit is looking to create an impact story, the exposition would be an ideal opportunity for introducing your organization’s purpose and work. For instance, an animal rescue nonprofit could begin its impact story by briefly describing its everyday activities toward helping improve the lives of rescued animals.

Inciting incident

The inciting incident of a story arc marks the beginning of a shift from the status quo described in the exposition. An event or change occurs that leads the characters of your story to take action. In nonprofit storytelling, this could be the inspiration that led you to start your organization or a reason for launching a new program or fundraising campaign.

For an impact story, this would be the time for introducing a beneficiary that your nonprofit goes on to help. To continue with the animal rescue example, the nonprofit can describe a specific dog they rescued from the streets and provide details on how it was found, its health condition, and need for aid. Focus on employing evocative language to create a more powerful connection with your audience.

Rising action

For any traditional narrative, rising action represents a time for overcoming obstacles. This is when readers learn about the effort and problem-solving that goes into achieving your organization’s goals. Everything from building community awareness of an issue to raising funds to launch your initiative programs can be part of your rising action. This will build your audience’s investment into what will happen next.

At this point of the story, the animal rescue nonprofit can describe its fundraising efforts to earn enough money to pay for the abandoned dog’s medical treatments and food to nurse it back to health.


The high point, or climax, of your story is what your narrative has been driving toward all along. Your nonprofit has overcome obstacle after obstacle in pursuit of your goals, and now you’ve reached a point where the stakes are highest. Be sure to employ positive, empowering language that makes readers root for your nonprofit’s success.

In the animal rescue nonprofit’s impact story, the climax could be the day of an adoption event that the organization had been planning in hopes of securing homes for the abandoned dog and other rescued animals.

Falling action

Following the climax, your narrative’s falling action begins to tie up your story and guide it toward the resolution. As you’re telling your nonprofit story, this should be the moment when the reader’s investment in your journey begins to pay off.

For the animal rescue’s impact story example, this might be when someone considers adopting the previously abandoned dog at the adoption event.


This element of the story arc represents closure and accomplishment as you wrap up your narrative. This is when you can delve into the results of your nonprofit’s hard work and demonstrate the on-the-ground impact of your efforts. Remember, always tie everything back to your organization’s purpose, so readers can feel encouraged to contribute toward such positive outcomes.

To wrap up with the animal rescue nonprofit’s story, this would be the abandoned dog’s happy ending. Its new owner takes it home, happier and healthier than when it was rescued, while the nonprofit resumes its work to help more of its animals reach better lives.

Inspire action with your nonprofit’s story

At the end of your nonprofit’s story, be sure to explain how readers can support your organization’s purpose and help achieve more positive outcomes for your beneficiaries. Now that you’ve reached their hearts and minds, give them a clear call to action to respond to—as a donor, volunteer, or advocate.

Ready to Get Started?

    Supporter Engagement
  • Nonprofits
  • Digital communications & marketing