There are as many different ways to tell stories as there are stories to tell. But how can you squeeze the emotional anecdotes, the news peg, facts, and figures into a short story that is a quick and easy read? If you are not breaking news, here's one sure-fire formula to help get you started.
Paragraphs 1-2: The lede.
(Lede: Noun. lead, lead-in, the introductory section of a story)
- This is where you get your reader hooked into the story. Start with a short anecdote that's no longer than two paragraphs that shows (vs. tells) the point of your story. An anecdote could be about someone you helped, an amazing volunteer or employee, the nonprofit's involvement in a newsy event (such as assisting with wildfires in California, or helping steer wayward whales out to sea), or -- particularly for newer nonprofits -- the "aha!" moment that led to the birth of the organization.
Paragraph 3: The nut graph.
- This is where you put the news peg and a reference to your organization, if it's not mentioned already. Why are you telling this story? Why now? What's the context? What are the key statistics that add oomph and/or urgency to your story?
- Tell your readers why they should care. To effectively resonate, a reader has to become emotionally invested in a story and its subjects. How does what you are writing about affect them and the world around them?
Paragraph 4: The descriptor: Who are you?
- Clearly identify what is unique about your organization and what you are doing. Details you might want to include: age of the group, what you do, is it a model for programs in other parts of the country? State? Your community? TIP: If you can't claim a superlative, try to put what you are doing into perspective. Does your organization or efforts fit into any kind of trend?
- Be clear and specific about your goals. Be sure the listener or reader knows why there is a need for what you do. TIP: Put yourself in the shoes of readers or TV viewers and ask the question: Why should I care?
- Be clear and specific about your results. How much money have you raised? How many people/animals/etc., have you helped? How much have you been able to improve a certain situation? TIP: Keep your statistics updated and handy.
- Don't try to get fancy with your writing. Doing so can make it difficult for people to read your story and can even hide the message you are trying to get across. Use clear, straightforward language, and tell your story from beginning to end . If you are writing something technical, find a way to translate it into more accessible language. How would you explain it to your mother? Your son? Direct readers to explore your website or ask questions of the group if they want more detailed information.
- Don't take a "kitchen sink" approach. Be concise; not every detail has to be thrown in. Including a few well-placed and powerful anecdotes or quotes is much more effective than cramming it all in. Pick and choose what best conveys your message and the emotion of the story.
Paragraph 5: The kicker.
- Leave your reader on a strong note.
- Return to the anecdote: How did the situation turn out?
- Or go more global and end with an over-arching statement about how your nonprofit is having an impact, along the lines of "we're changing the world" or "we're making life better for fill-in-the-blank."
- As with the lede, wrapping up with a powerful quote is a good, concise way to end the story.
- Proofread. Better yet, have someone else proofread your story for you before sending it out or posting it to your website. Make sure to catch all spelling and grammatical errors while checking to make sure the story makes sense. Does it have a clear beginning, middle and end? Are the facts correct? Does it answer the questions that it raises? Is any information missing?