Nonprofit Storytelling | How to hook your reader from the first sentence

November 21, 2013

“Let me tell you about…”
“I want pink balloons at my funeral.”

If you were reading a fundraising appeal, which of the two sentences above would capture your imagination and make you want to read further?  The first, “Let me tell you about,” is a standard story lead I’ve seen in many a fundraising appeal and grant proposals.  The second is from copywriter Jules Brown’s appeal for a children’s home-based hospice service.  The quote came from a little girl named Una who knew she was dying.

It’s simple and heart-rending…and you want to read further.

How can you engage your reader in your story, right from the start?  The good news is that we’re all looking for a reason to care.  These days, we’re all so busy, our brains are so bombarded with technology and interruptions, that we welcome any opportunity to slow down and really become engaged in effective storytelling.

The bad news is, you’re probably not a professional writer.  In fact, if you’re the ED or DD of a small nonprofit organization, chances are good that in addition to your job title, you’re also performing the roles of major gift officer, event planner, grantwriter, prospect researcher, database manager and chief cook and bottle washer!

As you assemble your agency’s stories and speak with clients and program staff, always be on the lookout for  that one emotional, heartfelt, tear-jerking detail. I have a quote posted above my desk from copywriter Indra Sinha as a reminder:

“Don’t start by writing. Start by feeling. Feel, and feel passionately, and the emotion you feel will come through the spaces in between the words.”

Your story’s ‘emotional hook’ is that detail that brings a tear to your eye, or makes you laugh out loud.  And it will draw your readers in as well.

Check out the Resources below for more nonprofit storytelling tips.


Nonprofit Storytelling | The Basics & More!
3 Lessons in Nonprofit Storytelling from HONY
Nonprofit Storytelling and You | 8 Tips
Nonprofit Newsletter Brings in $2 Million | The Power of Storytelling
Story Time:  Not just for Babies
The Story of Your Nonprofit


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