If you have a favorite TV show, you are familiar with the concept of the story arc: what happens last week influences what happens this week, and that influences what happens next week. We can look back at the end of the season and summarize several different story arcs within one show.

Smaller one-time events will happen in each episode, but a few larger story arcs continue from episode to episode. It's what keeps you coming back, and what makes you catch up on the webisodes or DVR recordings before coming back to the show live.

Soap operas are perhaps the ultimate users (and abusers) of the arc, but you see them in dramas and comedies too. They work their way through sectionals and regionals to nationals on Glee. The pressure builds as Jackie gets caught in lie after lie on Nurse Jackie. We watch Michael and Holly's relationship grow, leading to his departure from The Office.

So what does this have to do with nonprofit marketing? Everything!

What if you could create a story arc over a series of weeks, or even months, that kept your supporters hooked? What if they just HAD to open your email newsletter to see what happened next?

We often see communications arcs in advocacy and fundraising campaigns. For example, the Humane Society of United States blogs annually from the ice during the Canadian seal hunt (warning: it's graphic). Greenpeace is chronicling the construction of a new Rainbow Warrior.

Rainbow Warrior Construction

Even if your work is less dramatic, you can surely envision a beginning, middle, and end to some of your campaigns, programs, or stories. How you share that beginning, middle, and end is your arc.

Sometimes the arc follows a three-act structure:

Act I: We meet the character and learn his situation and aspirations.

Act II: The character hits obstacles, and eventually rock bottom.

Act II: The character overcomes, and (usually) succeeds.

There's also an eight-part story arc, found in the book, Writing A Novel and Getting Published, by Nigel Watts. It goes like this:

  1. Stasis
  2. Trigger
  3. The quest
  4. Surprise
  5. Critical choice
  6. Climax
  7. Reversal
  8. Resolution

But even if you don't know exactly how your story will unfold, take a guess at it. Draw that arc and use it to structure your communications over several weeks or months, hooking your supporters and keeping them invested in how the story ends.

Read Kivi's blog post on using the communications arc to share progress with and engage your supporters.