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Rob Wu 11 min read

Four Classic Storylines for Nonprofit Storytelling

Rob-Square  What’s the big deal about storytelling?

Storytelling matters because it shapes movements and defines the success of your nonprofit. But you're probably thinking, “I don’t have a sexy story” or “I don’t know how to tell a story”. You may have even tried to use storytelling at your nonprofit but it didn’t get much traction.

We believe that nonprofits and social good projects have an unlimited potential in using stories because you make this world a better place. It’s actually easier than you think to create a compelling story. You have all the building blocks for an effective story, but how do you get the put them together?

Look at the fairy tales, fireside stories, and your favorite Hollywood movies. There are storylines that every popular story follows. Guess what? They drive donations as well.

Taking inspiration from Christopher Booker’s 7 Basic Plots, here are a few of the storylines that you can use for crowdfunding (or any type of nonprofit marketing).

1. Overcoming the Monster

In this storyline, the protagonist sets out to defeat a deadly force or antagonist that threatens him, his home, or his community.



Similar to James Bond, Batman, or the Avengers, you can show your organization overcoming a villain or some form of adversity. The key is to find a large deadly enemy and then rallying your community around fighting the enemy.

For example, EarthRights International takes on corporate human rights abusers via advocacy and litigation. In this video, they set themselves as a protagonist against multinational corporations with human rights abuses.




2. Rags to Riches

In this storyline, the protagonist starts out as poor and downtrodden, but rises in the world through wealth, status, love, and more. May include momentary loss of it all and growth  because of it.


Like Chris Gardner in Pursuit of Happyness, showcase your organization or individual(s) transitioning from a low place to a much better place. The focus point is to show the transformative effect of your nonprofit’s work.

For example, Project Renewal's mission is to end the cycle of homelessness by empowering men, women and children to renew their lives with health, homes and jobs. Here’s a rags to riches storyline they used for a crowdfunding campaign video



3. Quest

This storyline is what epics are made of. They feature multiple heros. The protagonist and companions set out to acquire an important object or reach a destination, encountering perils and obstacles along the way.



Like Lord of the Rings or Wizard of Oz, tales of a dedicated group of people who encounter perils along the way to reach an ambitious goal can be highly engaging.

The most common way to use this storyline is through peer-to-peer fundraising. You put your supporters and fundraisers as the heros of the story. Their call to action is to fundraise to help support the cause. 

For example, Mox Boarding House, a retail boarding game store in Seattle, launched a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign to raise funds for a local charity. In the end, they raised over $90,000, which was 300% of their goal.

Here’s their invitational video to inspired people to participate in the quest.



4. Tragedy

The Tragedy is a negative storyline. The main character is a hero or villain protagonist who delves deeper into darkness before ultimately falling too far, and dies. This is Overcoming the Monster storyline from the perspective of the antagonist



Macbeth, Hamlet, and Breaking Bad are all examples of stories that use the Tragedy storyline. These stories are typically dark and explore how the protagonist degenerates and dives deeper into evil before dying.

Worldhelp, a humanitarian organization that works to serve the needs of impoverished communities, used the Tragedy storyline as part of their Nepal earthquake relief efforts. Here’s one example of how they used it through video to drive donations and support.



These four storylines are power and proven plots that you can use to tell a compelling story.

You can use these storylines to frame your story and get your crowdfunding campaign the attention it deserves. For more detailed tips, check out the free Hollywood Storylines for Nonprofit Crowdfunding ebook.