How to Tell a Story

fairytaleFairy tales runs through the ages.  Amazingly we all know the basic plot of a number of old children’s stories.  So it’s no surprise that they follow a simple format.  It turns out that we can keep things really simple and use this structure for all our stories:

Once upon a time…unfortunately…thankfully…happily ever after

Think of every short story, book, song, movie and sitcom you know,  they probably follow this format.  A book or movie may repeat the formula over and over.  On Seinfeld each of the characters went through their own story in each episode.   Keep this simple format in mind as you craft your story.

Truth, naked and cold, had been turned away from every home in the village. Her nakedness frightened people. When Parable found her she was huddled in a corner, shivering and hungry. Taking pity on her, Parable took her home, dressed Truth in story, warmed her and sent her out again. Clothed in story, Truth knocked again on the villagers’ doors and was readily welcomed into their homes. They invited her to eat at their tables and warm herself at their fires.                             — Jewish Teaching Story

I like this for a couple reasons – one, it’s a reminder that stories are old, they’ve been around forever and are used to pass information through the ages.  It is also a great reminder of how people hear you – tell them a story and they will listen and care.  Warm up your facts with story!

Getting Personal

I made a choice to work for a major corporation.  I was single mom worried about how I was going to support my daughter, Joy.  Leaving the nonprofit world seemed like the right thing to do.  In many ways it was.  I learned a lot, I was successful and I gave Joy the opportunities that I dreamed she should have.  As challenging as my work at Mc-Graw and AIG was I never stopped wanting to work with nonprofit organizations.  I was an active volunteer and became a fundraiser (once I learned the secret!).  Eventually I started my own marketing business, married my business partner (because he was so creative and made me laugh).  Although we worked with many technology companies, I started my “side business” working with nonprofits.  It was only a matter of time before I turned all my attention to these organizations.  Happy at last!  I love helping nonprofits tell their story, raise money and fulfill their vision.

I tell you my story because I want you to learn to tell yours.  There is nothing more engaging and moving than a personal story.  Look hard at your life and find the thread that leads to your work.  Why do you have such a passion for your vision and your organization?

Your Founder’s Story

Founders have great stories!  When someone cares enough about a cause to start an organization, they have a story to tell.  A favorite of mine is Juliette Low.  As a Brownie I learned how she had traveled to England, heard about the Boy Scouts and decided to come back to the USA to start an organization for girls!  That story has always stuck with me an inspired me.  Founders are the perfect example of taking Passion and Vision and creating something great.

Gathering Stories

You have Your Story, you have your Founder’s Story, now you are ready to collect other stories.  You want to be a story-gathering organization. Make it part of your work, a system, that encourages everyone to be on the lookout for stories.  One organization has each employee write up their “Miracle of the Month.”  Don’t wait for big, breaking news instead look for little victories.  Many great stories come from your service recipients or program participants but you’ll find them everywhere.  They don’t all have to be heartbreaking or the ultimate success.  If they interest you, they’ll interest others.  Make it easy for staff and volunteers to gather stories!


Here’s a picture of me (on the left) and my sisters in our Girl Scout uniforms!bennygirls


Merle Benny-NPCMerle Benny wants to hear your story!  Her blog, Nonprofit Champion, is a resource for fast track nonprofit leaders.  She’s smart, creative and driven to help organizations reach their vision.  As a partner at Thinc. she has provided marketing and branding services to nonprofit organizations and managed events that raised millions of dollars to support their work.


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