Giving the story zing

Once a constituent tells you a wonderful story that demonstrates the heart of your organization, the next job is to hone that raw gem into words that will work best to fill the bill. You won’t change the meaning of what the person said, but you probably will find ways to say it more succinctly, emphasizing key words, painting a human picture, and focusing on a single benefit.(if you have multiple benefits to include, you may need separate speakers.)

Just two or three sentences works best. Keep the tone conversational, just as you heard it, but get rid of extraneous phrases and ideas:

“When my daughter was in a car accident at the junction of Route 40 and University Drive, the police called us from the emergency room and told us her condition was critical. They told us to come to the hospital immediately.”


  • “The police called, saying our daughter had been in an accident and asking us to come to the hospital immediately.”
  • You’ve said the same thing without clouding the point with details. But take care not to polish what was said beyond what is believable, as in: “The phone rang. With sirens and beeping monitors sounding in the background, Officer Hughes asked if we were sitting down….”
  • Get right to the point. If the reader doesn’t immediately know who’s talking (client, family member, board member) and what they’re talking about—before the first comma—then you’ve lost them. Here are a few examples of the ho-hum start:
  • “I support XYZ because I believe in the importance of education.”
  • “When asked about her experience, Wendy said, “I was very pleased. Everyone was wonderful! I don’t know what I would have done without XXX.”
  • "I applaud your efforts in helping others and wish you well as you work with other young people….”

Compare those to:

  • "I was using a lot; I would not be alive right now...."
  • “ Now that Darby’s (service dog) with me, I can’t wait to ….”
  • “The best part of volunteering to feed the homeless is the faces of the people.”

Winning copy for nonprofits doesn’t waste any time getting to the point, doesn’t put the reader in a fog of introductory phrases, mentions actions and people who can be visualized. This is what grabs readers across the board.

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