How Storytelling Can Turn Your Nonprofit into a Blockbuster

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You're struggling to get through to your audience. You've put up your website and you're on social media, but it seems like a futile fight for attention. You're not sure if anyone's really listening. You're feeling disheartened. Do you secretly suspect you're just doing it wrong and there has to be a better way out there?

It's getting harder and harder to rise above the noise. Every day, more catchy sites, big-budget projects, gimmicky ideas, or ridiculous memes rise up to pull focus from the important issues that you're trying to overcome. You know people should care about your cause. You know that if more people took the time to discover the great work that you do, they'd want to support it. But how do you do that on a nonprofit budget?

What if there was a simple method for connecting with the right audiences, and then converting them from audiences to fans and supporters? What if you've actually witnessed it hundreds of times and it's worked on you, but you never realized it?

A Storytelling Framework that Works for Nonprofits (Borrowed from Blockbuster Movies)

Think of the last blockbuster movie you saw in the theater. Why did you go? What did you experience when you went? Did you like it? Maybe so much so that you're already looking forward to a sequel?

Congratulations, you are proof that the Hollywood Blockbuster Formula works. (Not a movie fan? Think about the last great novel you read, or TV show you love to watch.)

The best part? It can be applied to your nonprofit without spending $500M to make it and another $250M to market it.

The Hollywood Blockbuster Formula

Hollywood has been using it for years. They didn't invent it, but you might say they got it down to a science. Let's break it down into its simplest, most critical elements:

Act I — We enter a world in which there is a certain status quo. We quickly discover that there is something wrong with this world and people are in danger. There is a potential hero, but she doesn't know her own potential, much less if she should "take arms against the sea of trouble" or if she should, for very good reasons, "suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" and let someone else deal with it. We can all relate to her predicament.

Finally, something happens that she can't ignore any longer and with a small step, she decides to challenge—to resist against—the status quo. She's on a mission…even if she doesn't know it just yet.

Act II — Our hero tries to take on the situation, but the world does not cooperate with her mission. It turns out it's much more complicated than she thought. A villain emerges—the personification of all that is wrong with the world. She tries different tactics, makes allies, but just as she feels like she's getting closer, new obstacles arise. At each point of failure, she must decide if she should give up, or raise her commitment. She's in too deep and her inner drive is increased with each new challenge. Despite our hero's best efforts, it looks like the villain may win after all.

Act III — Our hero isn't sure if she has the strength, the resources and the emotional fortitude to do this. Allies rally to her help. She's not alone. A plan emerges. With a final push, digging deeper than she ever has before, the battle to end all battles takes place. It comes at a price, but in the end, our hero emerges victorious. There is a new status quo in the world, and it is filled with hope. The world is a better place.

Have you seen this movie? Have you seen it dozens of times with different titles and minor differences? And yet, you will go again and again. Why? Because it works. And you can use it for your nonprofit!

Nonprofit Storytelling using the Hollywood Formula

Could you see your nonprofit in that plot outline? Here are a few questions to get you thinking about your movie and how to recruit your heroes.

What is the state of the world that you're battling against?

Is there a villain?

Are there people suffering?

Who is your potential hero?

Is your struggle currently in Act I, Act II or Act III? Why should they act now? Did something just happen? Are you at a critical juncture in your battle?

What will happen if they don't act? Why shouldn't they wait for someone else to take up the mantle?

Who will help them if they do act? Who is already fighting the fight? Can it be won without them?

What plan has your organization put in place that—with the right support—will defeat the villain and win the day?

What's the first step that they could take that will make a difference and get them committed to the cause?

What would you title your movie? What would be the logline?

Answering these questions and "plotting" them into a story that's told throughout your website, social media and marketing can make the difference between being a blockbuster and hoping to occasionally get stumbled upon while someone's flipping channels.

It's also the formula we just used for this very article. 

Did it get your attention? 

Did it make you think about the actions you can take to be the author of your story and to activate your audience?

Need an ally? Someone to help you craft your story and a plan to bring your mission to success? You don't have to face the story alone. 

I am hosting a four-session workshop this August at Foundation Center New York.  For more details and to register click here. 

Chat with me online during a Facebook LIVE conversation with Foundation Center New York on Thursday, July 13th at 11:00am ET.  View the discussion here!


Boris Kievsky profile 2017

Boris Kievsky founded Speed of Like, a boutique digital agency focusing on small businesses and nonprofits; and dotOrgStrategy, a platform for teaching nonprofits how to effectively use technology to achieve and expand their missions without over-stretching their resources. A storyteller and entrepreneur, Boris is excited to combine his passions for technology, storytelling, and making a positive difference in the world by helping organizations increase impact locally and globally through digital tools including websites, social media, email, advertising, and crowdfunding.