The Four C’s of Storytelling - Nonprofit Storytelling Conference

The Four C's of Storytelling

by Christopher Davenport

A story can have an extremely powerful effect on an individual.

I learned how powerful stories can be when working on a small documentary called "Letters to the Wall."  When I started the documentary project, I thought I was making a film about the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC.

After several frustrating days in the editing room, I realized the story I was trying to tell wasn't about a black wall made outof stone.  The story I needed to tell was about the effect the wall had on the people who visited it.  

I fell into a common trap.

I had focused on the obvious, on the object. I see this over and over again in nonprofit stories. People get fixated on the programs, or the buildings, or the things like the blankets or the books they provide. In my case, it was a wall with 58,000 names on it.

Once I figured out that the story was really about the effect the wall had on people's lives, the story became compelling.  

When the documentary was released, I started hearing about people who watched it and then traveled to Washington D.C. to experience what the wall had to offer them.  People bought plane tickets. They rented hotel rooms.  They took time out of their busy lives to experience the wall. ...Not just to hear about it, not just to see it, but to experience it.  And all because I had told the right story.

You too can change lives by telling stories.

The next time you tell a story, craft it around the effect of your organization, not around the "things."  In this article, youʼll learn about the four building blocks of storytelling. I call them the 4 Cʼs.

The Four Cʼs of NonProfit Storytelling include:

1. Character
2. Connection
3. Conflict
4. Conquest

Each story needs to have a character.  In your case, your story needs at least two characters.

1. Main character
2. Secondary character

The main character can be a person, an organization, an animal, a plant, a place, or some other object. It really depends on the mission of your nonprofit.

The purpose of the character is to stir something inside the viewer. In the case of a fundraising video, the character is there to appeal to the donorʼs inner values.

The secondary character is your organization and/or your donors.  

Which character(s) will your story focus on?

The only way for a character to appeal to a donorʼs inner values is by making a connection. This is accomplished by revealing something the character either does, stands for, or has experienced. The character must be shown to have a universal human quality (Typically a need, want or desire).

What is the “universal human quality” of your character?

There is not a single person living on this planet that hasnʼt had conflict in their life.  Conflict helps us to connect with and bond with people that share in the same understanding of our problem. But conflict can also make or break us. Itʼs how we deal with it and conquer it that truly makes people respond favorably or unfavorably to us.

There are two types of conflict.

1. External
2. Internal

External conflict - is the obvious barrier in the way. It could be a physical condition (an illness), environmental (a storm), financial (loss of a job), or situational (political opposition).

Internal conflict - is what is going on inside the main character ... the thoughts and feelings around the situation.  

I crafted a story about hospice. It was about a woman who lost her husband to cancer.  The cancer and losing her husband was the external conflict. How she felt and dealt with it as a wife was the internal conflict.

Having both types of conflict in your story engages your audience on many different levels. It creates a much more powerful story.  

Whatʼs the conflict (External and Internal) facing your character(s)?

In order for a story to be compelling to an audience (your donor), it must have a positive outcome. The character must be able to conquer the conflict or at least have the hope of conquest. This is where your organization comes in.

As the second character, your organization's, and its donorsʼ, job is to be the knight in shining armor…to ride in and save the day. …the hero in the story.

How has your organization and/or your donors alleviated a problem?

The best story is when you can involve the donor to the point where the donor feels like they are a hero as well. 

If you'd like to know more about structuring a story and crafting powerful stories that deepen relationships with donors, and get people to donate more, then come to this year's Nonprofit Storytelling Conference.  Click here.