8 Tips for Writing a Better Story

Laurel Dykema of Mission India

Laurel Dykema of Mission India

Last week we heard from Kathy Swayze on how to get stories from your staff and board. Today, Laurel Dykema of Mission India is back to share her tips on how to tell those stories once you get them. ~Kivi

Guest Post by Laurel Dykema of Mission India

“A writer’s work is never done,” I say jokingly.

But if you write for a nonprofit like me, you know that this statement isn’t so much a joke as it is a reality!

You probably have a backlog of writing projects that—if written on sticky notes—would stretch from your cubicle to the front door. Another email. The next newsletter. Stories. Blog entries. Even those little social media posts.

With such a pile, it can be hard to take the time to really tell a story well. But the truth of the matter is—the most important thing to get right when you write is good storytelling.

If stories are told well, they tug at the heart, humanize your nonprofit’s work, and even help increase the likelihood of donor gifts. In addition, stories can be repurposed to make great emails, newsletter articles, blog entries, and social media posts … thereby knocking more than one sticky note off of your list. (Yay!)

So, let’s take your next story … and make it better!

8 Tips for Writing a Better Story:

1. Take your story out for coffee.
Take some time to really get to know the story. Peruse your raw content first. Knowing your stuff will help make your story more cohesive—and you’ll spend less time later searching for details.

2. Find your beginning, middle, and end.
Your raw content for the story is probably too long. Chop it down to the basics. (Don’t have time to make an outline? Try this: If you had to say it in three sentences, how would you tell the story?)

3. Add in what’s relevant.
What information do you have to flesh out your story and bring it to life for the reader? Make a rough draft, adding in those details.

4. Stumped about where to start?
If you have trouble finding a starting place for your story, think about what grabs your attention the most about this story. Perhaps you want to start off your story right in the middle of the action!

5. Use your imagination. Seriously.
Walk for a minute in your main character’s shoes. What smells, sights, and sounds surround him? How does she feel? These details will help the reader feel “in the moment” with him/her.

6. Make your story come alive!
The “action” and descriptive words (or verbs and adjectives) you choose matter. If you can’t find the right word … or find yourself using the same ones over and over, head over to thesaurus.com for some fresh picks.

7. Remember that the donor is the hero.
Point to your donors’ impact in the story instead of your nonprofit’s impact. Think about how you can focus less on your organization and make your donors the hero of the story—because they are!

8. If it doesn’t have a purpose, chuck it.
Look at your piece with a critical eye. If details have crept in that don’t help the “plot” move along, don’t evoke emotion, or are simply uninteresting or irrelevant, kick them out!

BONUS tidbits:
Get someone to do a quick read-through of your story. Listen to their comments!
To write a good story, it helps to read good stories! Check out other nonprofits’ stories—you can head over to Mission India’s website or Facebook page to get a start.

Laurel Dykema joined Mission India in 2010 and currently serves as the staff writer and social media guru. She enjoys a well-turned phrase, Downton Abbey episodes, and a good cup of masala tea. 

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