Use Storytelling to Develop Compelling Proposals

We all tell stories to create meaning in our lives.  Good stories inform and persuade others in very compelling ways.  The mission of your nonprofit organization lends itself to compelling storytelling.

Are you feeding hungry families?  Providing contraceptives to poor people in developing countries?   Advocating for clean air?  Then you have great stories to tell potential funders about how your work is making the world a better place.

A good proposal has the following storytelling elements:

  • Characters.
  • A setting.
  • A plot that includes tension or drama.
  • The resolution of a satisfying conclusion.

Because storytelling is such a powerful narrative tool, use your proposal to tell a great story.

Treat your proposal narrative like a novel.   Introduce the characters and place with a “hook” such as a riveting quotation or a brief story.  Introduce your main characters.  Create a sense of place.  Build tension and conflict into your story with a compelling need or problem.  Put a human face on the problem.

Find a resolution to the problem.  Include an epilogue and planning for a sequel with a discussion of evaluation, sustainability, and next phase.

Package your proposal story by using the principles of good information design.

Too many nonprofit organizations squander a great opportunity to tell a great story by focusing on organizational processes and details in their proposals.  They are very important, but do not overlook the personal side of your work.  Use storytelling to explain how your organization is making a difference in people’s lives.

To develop your proposal storytelling skills, I recommend two very helpful books:  Cheryl A. Clarke, Storytelling for Grantseekers:  The Guide to Creative Nonprofit Fundraising (2001), and Robert Coles, The Call of Stories:  Teaching and the Moral Imagination (1989).  Ms. Clarke’s book contains many excellent examples of effective storytelling in grant proposals while Mr. Coles movingly describes how good stories entertain and instruct.

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