A few weeks ago I shared Why Stories Are Important for Nonprofits and promised some more ideas on how to actually write those stories.

In their marketing book, Made to Stick (Amazon link), Chip Heath and Dan Heath identify three different types of inspirational stories: the Challenge Plot, the Creativity Plot and the Connection Plot. They each have very basic elements that anyone can use especially if you are just starting out with storytelling.

Over the next few weeks I will share the features of each and how you can make them work in the nonprofit world. Start with these formulas and then let your creativity lead the way!

Today we look at:

The Challenge Plot

The challenge plot is your basic, three–act structure that practically every Hollywood movie is based on. These are your classic underdog, rags-to-riches, against-all-odds stories. They inspire action and appeal to our courage and strength. They make people feel, “Yes, we can do this!”

Act 1

You start by introducing a character and her situation and goals.

Act 2

She faces obstacle to reaching those goals and the tension mounts. Will everything work out? Usually not until things get even worse.

Act 3

The action peaks and we get to the big climax where our heroine finally triumphs! We get a big emotional payoff in the end.

What You Need to Write The Challenge Plot

  • Characters at a particular time and place.
  • Their goals and desires.
  • Barriers that they must overcome.
  • How they get beyond those barriers.
  • Payoff or triumphs

One common mistake nonprofits use when telling Challenge stories is making themselves the hero.

In most cases, your nonprofit won’t appear in the story until Act 3 and then you are typically just part of the supporting cast that helps the main character get over those barriers.

These stories work best when the main character is a client, volunteer, donor or someone else involved in or affected by your work, but not the nonprofit itself.


Think about who could be the star of this story for your organization. 

Published On: March 6, 2019|Categories: Storytelling, Writing Skills and Content|