FYI Blog

Best Practices: The Power of Storytelling


We’ve all heard a moving story that touched us deeply and stuck with us for years. These kinds of stories remind us of the incredible strength of the human spirit and can inspire us to take action. 


The simple act of telling a compelling story can be a powerful creative tool to help donors tap into their own empathy and generosity, and learn how their support can make a tangible difference to an organization’s mission. 


The following are examples of stories told by nonprofits that moved us—often to tears. They remind us of the power of the work that these organizations do for our world. 


Our first story was told by a mother whose missing child was found by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children:


I can tell you what a critical difference the National Center makes, because I’m one of the lucky ones. My Sam was found.


The day Sam was recovered, I got a phone call from law enforcement. I was so overwhelmed, I could barely process what they were saying. It turns out, a woman had indeed recognized Sam from the ADVO mailer and called the police.


Sam was recovered in Texas, and I was living in New Jersey—so I immediately booked a flight. I ran to the gate and tried to be patient during the long flight—I thought I could run faster than the plane could fly. The stewardess knew I was going to recover my son and asked what she could do for me.


I told her, “Just let me off the plane first.”


And they did.


Our next story was told by a PFLAG mom:


When my daughter told me my son Ben was gay, she said he was driving around town in his car waiting for her pre-arranged signal. 1) If her car was still there, it meant that we were still talking and he was supposed to keep riding around. 2) If her car was gone, it meant that she had told us and we were not accepting and that he should leave and go home. 3) But if she had told us and we were accepting, she would put the light on in his old bedroom window.


My heart nearly broke. We immediately jumped up and turned on every light in the house, from the porch lights to the spotlights in the front, the attic light and even every closet light. When Ben drove into the driveway the house was a beacon to him that our love was unconditional and that we would always be there for him. It was a magical moment for our entire family.


The next story comes to us from the National Breast Cancer Coalition and reminds us that even with the millions raised and spent to find a cure for breast cancer, this terrible disease still claims the lives of 40,000 women and men in the U.S. every year. What a powerful call to action. 


In September 1987, I was a partner in a law firm in Philadelphia, a wife, and mother of a 14-month-old son. I was a community volunteer, involved in women’s rights issues, sitting on nonprofit boards, and working on political campaigns.


I was 39 years old … and I found out I had breast cancer.


It came as quite a shock. I knew nothing about the disease—I did not think I had to know. I mistakenly believed that my lack of family history made this a nonissue in my life. I went through a lumpectomy, radiation, and chemotherapy because of lymph node involvement. With a strong desire to help others with the disease, I began volunteering in the breast cancer community so that underserved women could get information and care.


But I am an activist … I needed to do more.


That burning desire to be a force in the fight to end breast cancer led me to a meeting in Washington, D.C., in May 1991. I sat among a group of about 60 women (and one man) who decided to take on the status quo, challenge the establishment, and speak out.


I often describe that meeting as my epiphany. I discovered what I wanted to do about my diagnosis of breast cancer. Because from that changing moment, the National Breast Cancer Coalition (NBCC) was born. 

Our last story was told by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in a compelling year-end email appeal, which included a photograph of two adorable children standing by a beautifully decorated Christmas tree.


When Moshe Mandil took a portrait of his children in the fall of 1940, he had no idea that it would save their lives less than one year later…


The Mandil family was Jewish, and Moshe took this portrait to promote his photography studio for the Christmas season.


When Germany invaded Yugoslavia the following year, the Mandil family tried to flee their hometown of Novi Sad, but they were detained by SS officers. Moshe showed them the photograph of his children by the Christmas tree to prove they couldn’t be Jewish.


The Germans let them go, unaware they had allowed a Jewish family to proceed to safety.


Stories make us angry, sad, happy…but they also bring out the best in people—our empathy, our generosity, our hope. Move your donors to action by telling your own story. Because stories can help donors personally relate to your campaigns and to your overall mission, and show them the tangible difference their donations make.