The 5 Story Elements Needed for Nonprofit Storytelling

5 min read
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There are conventions to storytelling that remain the same across all stories. Looking closely at stories, you notice they have a plot, characters, setting, conflict, and theme. However, nonprofits need a revised, simplified version to create more captivating stories. In this article, let's identify five simple story elements or frameworks to craft better stories.

Our five story elements of engaging stories are:

  1. Have a start, middle, and ending
  2. Share specific details
  3. Communicate emotion
  4. Embrace conflict and challenges
  5. Know your audience

The keyword is engaging. Your brand films will feel flat or lifeless without any of these elements. Consider these elements as the essential ingredients for your brand film. We can always get fancy later by adding additional layers. Let's break down these story elements.

Have a start, middle, and ending

Do you remember book reports in grade school? If your teachers were like mine, you probably answered what happened in the book's beginning, middle, and end. A story's beginning, middle, and end form the basis for a story's plot. A story has more plot points, but those three are foundational to understanding the big picture. This is our first story element.

In your brand film, you may want to explore the impact of your work told through one person's perspective and experience. The actual impact is the ending, so what happens in the start and middle that brings us to this conclusion or impact climax?

Exploring the person's desires and challenges is part of the story's start. After that, we need to explore what prompts them to take action, leading them to discover your organization. Now, we conclude with the impact of working with your organization.

This straightforward example illustrates a basic story structure, providing the audience with a journey to experience.

Share Specific Details

If you're standing 10 feet away from a painting, you can see the image as a whole. As you walk closer, only inches from the picture, you notice details that captivate you. The details of a story add texture that awakens your senses.

Sharing specific information further invites the audience into the story. It recalls memories of their senses like taste, smell, or sight. This second story element is sensory.

Kindra Hall, author of Stories that Sticks, tells an origin story about her first encounters with storytelling at school. She paints this scene that transports the listeners into their old classrooms. As the audience, you suddenly remember your past experiences that are now intertwined with the storyteller's experiences.

Details enrich the story and experience for your audience.

In our film, Ripple of Cars, Joe shares an experience of feeling bad for his daughter's friend biking home from work. Just reading that falls flat. But when Joe details the time of day and 10-degree weather, a detailed image is painted in your brain.

Communicate Emotion

People that don't show emotion feel like Zombies to me. Imagine interviewing a Zombie for your brand film. How engaged will you be after the first 30 seconds if you make it that far?

When people communicate with any human, it makes them human, allowing us to relate more. Your viewing audience hears the emotion (even better if they see it), and their brain subconscious says, "They're like me." This third story element is emotive.

Of course, sharing emotions can evoke another's feelings; the biggest reason to do this is to build connection and relatability.

When the characters in your brand express their feelings, they're giving the viewing audience a reason to care. This process hooks your audience and helps the audience desire what your character desires.

Embrace conflict and challenges

I like to ask people what's going well in their lives and what's not. It's humorous the number of times people downplay the challenges. I often retort to their quick responses, "So you're telling me your life is perfect with nothing going wrong."

Then, they reveal the real, leaning into those challenges. Regarding your brand films, conflict and challenges are other details pulling your audience into the story.

In storytelling, conflicts/challenges prompt the question, "What will happen next?" Conflict also hooks your audience, keeping them watching to the end to determine what will happen at the end. This fourth story element sparks questions in the viewers' minds.

The stronger the conflict and challenge, the more gratifying or disheartening the payoff is for your audience. A story absent of conflict and challenges becomes boring because there are no stakes that keep the viewing audience intrigued to continue watching or listening.

Know Your Audience

Most marketing folks and Communication Directors like yourself know the value of knowing your audience. Brand films are not different.

That same value is also needed for your brand films. Every one of your brand films should have an audience in mind. Knowing the intended audience allows storytellers to craft the story in a way that is best suitable for the audience. The final story element is personal, identifying who we're talking to.

For example, I was discriminated against in my neighborhood while taking photos to test camera equipment. If I were to share this experience with my grandmother, I would tell it one way. If my daughter were the audience, I would share the story differently. The facts would remain, but how that story is told would change because the audience has different education levels, knowledge, and interests.

Keeping the audience in mind while crafting your brand film will help filter decisions, resulting in a film that best connects with the intended audience.

It's all about the connection

While writing this, I noticed the words connect, connection, and engage reappear. Ultimately, these five key story elements are ways to foster harmony between the audience, your story, and your organization.

Like the game of Jinga, each element is connected or lays the foundation for the elements. Without one of these elements, you'll have a story with holes in it; without any of these elements, you have crumbled nothing.

Thanks for reading. 👊🏾

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