Putting Passion in Your Prose

Blog Post by: Ashlee Meier

Nonprofit writing is a unique beast that can make or break your ability to capture and keep current and potential donors’ attention, and ultimately move them to action…or not. It requires a certain finesse that doesn’t translate to big words and complex sentences, but places a higher value on the kind of polish that sparkles. Your selection of words must shine, so they jump off the page and grab your readers’ attention, then quickly and efficiently hook them emotionally.

Data and statistics will always have their place, and can be incredibly powerful in the right circumstances, but a perfectly positioned plea can’t feel like a term paper. To be effective, your content should be a delicate balance of persuasive storytelling and evidence of impact, with a side of cheerleading.

Easier said than done, right? My teammates at STUDIO 4Forty have lovingly dubbed me, “Glitter Sparkles,” in a nod to the success I’ve found pouring my passionate personality into nonprofit storytelling. While there is no guaranteed recipe, I’ve found the following to be profoundly useful when approaching content creation: 

  • Always tell a story and sometimes tell YOUR story
    • The work you are doing is unique and your audience wants to hear about it firsthand. Share the positive impact of your agency through a protagonist, or multiple aligned protagonists, who can paint the picture of their experience.
    • Sometimes the most powerful and authentic story to tell is your own. Yes, YOU! Surely you didn’t just stumble upon this organization and decide fundraising sounded like a fun career path. What brought you here? Why this nonprofit? What makes you so passionate about your role? Why are you proud to be a part of this work specifically? To be here, you must care deeply. Let it show!
  • Use powerful verbs
    • While there is no need to be overly verbose, choosing powerful verbs with an active voice can make the difference between your audience simply hearing and truly feeling your story. For example: 

Version 1: Sally walked to the river.

Version 2: Sally skipped towards the restful river. 

Can you feel Sally’s playfulness and picture the lazy blue water? Don’t you want your audience to be able to do the same, envisioning the good work your organization is doing? Bonus: take the time to get creative – the words, “incredible,” “amazing,” and “awesome” can only be used effectively so often.

  • Be donor focused 
    • While you may be telling your story, we know it’s really all about them! Consider the purpose of your content and keep that at the forefront of your mind, focusing on how to speak to the needs of the specific segment you are addressing.
    • Here is where the cheerleading comes in. A doomsday approach centered on crisis communication can be the opposite of motivating to supporters. Instead, ensure you share how their previous contributions have helped those in need or site-specific benefits their potential contributions will provide. Help them feel confident that their resources will be stewarded wisely and hopeful that they will personally bring positive change.
  • Call to action 
    • Once you’ve totally knocked telling your story out of the park, don’t miss out on a single opportunity to capitalize on it. A weak request to consider participating in some way at some time won’t cut it!
      • Tell your audience what you need. Don’t make them read between the lines or toss out several vague options. Be specific. Be bold.
      • Give them easy to follow action items. They have read/listened to your story, they might be misty eyed, or heartbroken but hopeful, or the right kind of mad that motivates them to make a commitment – give them clear, easy to follow instructions for next steps so they take them immediately.

So, what’s your story? Don’t forget to bring the sparkle!