Last Updated:

June 16, 2022

How to Write an Impact Narrative for Nonprofits


Instrumentl team



April 20, 2022

Many nonprofit organizations make positive changes in people's lives all around the world. However, writing an impact narrative that engages donors and the public can still be tricky for most of them. 

In this article, we will tell you exactly how to write an impact narrative for nonprofits that is compelling, effective, and can turn a simple reader into a donor.

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What Makes an Effective Impact Narrative?

When writing an impact narrative for your nonprofit, consider these following factors: 

The compelling character

Developing an impact narrative requires the selection of a character that best fits your nonprofit's target population. It is important to provide comprehensive details about the character to show donors that their money served the right person. 

A compelling impact narrative character should be someone who directly benefited from your nonprofit’s services in a clear way. 

If your character is captivating enough, they will engage readers, increase donors’ trust, and boost your nonprofit’s credibility. For that reason, it is important to choose your character wisely.

Narrative details

The more a nonprofit impact story flows like a story, the more effective it will be. And the best way to make an impact narrative digestible for readers is to include specific details. 

Including details about the character, setting, and timeframe in an impact narrative helps enliven the story to readers. These details help immerse the readers in the events or environments described that they have never experienced. 

The emotion

Effective impact narratives should trigger readers' emotions. Using a tone that drives an emotional response can help inspire readers to become new or repeated donors for your nonprofit. Let’s compare these two sentences below:

  1. In developing countries, many children do not have access to food.
  2. In developing countries, thousands of children die from hunger every day.

The second sentence is stronger and more emotive than the first one. You should point out the problem in your impact stories with descriptive language. 

A clear change

The point of writing an impact narrative is to show readers how impactful your nonprofit is and what you have achieved. Therefore, effective narratives should not only highlight the character’s conflict but also the clear transformation your nonprofit made in the character’s life.

Why are Impact Narratives So Important? 3 Reasons

Nonprofits write impact narratives for many reasons: 

1. To show the accomplished works to donors

In the grants world, nonprofits must maintain current donors and bring new ones into the pool to continue growing. An impact narrative is essential to show the world how your nonprofit makes a difference in its beneficiaries’ lives. 

Knowing how to tell your impact story well is essential to gain donors' trust and increase your credibility.

2. To create an emotional bond with donors, partners, and volunteers

In addition to highlighting the change your nonprofit has made in people’s lives, impact narratives are one of the best tools for creating emotional bonds with your audience. 

Developing an effective impact narrative is a wonderful way to establish and reinforce collaboration with donors, partners, and volunteers.

3. To improve visibility

Finally, a simple impact narrative can reach millions of people in no time thanks to social media and other online platforms. Your impact narrative can help raise awareness of your nonprofit’s work and show the public how they can contribute to your cause.

The more compelling and emotional your story is, the more likely it will be shared to give your nonprofit even greater visibility.

How to Write Compelling Impact Stories: 5 Steps

Here are five steps to help you write a compelling impact narrative:

Step 1: Find the story

Engaging nonprofit impact stories should align with the organization’s vision, mission, and target population. Through the story, current donors, partners, volunteers, and prospects should understand who your nonprofit serves in the community and how.

To find a great impact story to tell, seek out beneficiaries of one of your successful projects or programs. Listen to their stories and then choose a character that was clearly and significantly impacted by your services.

Below is an example of a strong impact story from the San Antonio Food Bank. They were able to write about a program participant whose life was powerfully impacted by their services and who was willing to share his story.

Step 2: Assign roles to your team

It is not a good idea to go about creating an impact narrative alone. There are many different components that go into creating strong impact narratives, and involving your team makes it easier to source and compile all of the necessary elements. 

Some of the jobs that you can assign to different members of your team are: 

  • Interviewing your character and other program participants
  • Researching relevant data and statistics
  • Taking photos and creating visuals
  • Outlining the narrative’s draft
  • Proofreading the final story

Teamwork also brings out more ideas and opinions that can help make the impact narrative more powerful and engaging.

Step 3: Gather story components

To gather all components of your impact story you should start by answering the following questions:

  • Who is your audience?
  • Why are you writing the story?
  • What was the problem?
  • How was the problem solved?
  • What change was made?

Compiling all of these components before writing the impact narrative can help you gain a clear roadmap of your story, identify and clarify missing points, and make sure you include all necessary details.

Step 4: Choose the story language

Impact storytelling is about touching readers' hearts and minds. For that reason, you should use evocative language that increases the emotional feelings of donors.

Using words that arouse your audience's emotions will help them connect with your story more deeply.

This wheel of emotional words from FlowingData can help you choose powerful language that aligns with the tone of your story. For example, if your narrative is about how your nonprofit helped low-income members of your community find higher paying jobs, instead of describing a newly-employed character as “happy”, you could describe them as “confident”, “respected”, or even “hopeful”.

Step 5: Outline and write the story structure

We all learned in high school the amazing storytelling structure that follows an exposition, conflict, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. The same structure can apply to impact narrative writing for nonprofits.

  • The exposition provides brief detail about the story's characters, environment, circumstances, and mood.
  • The conflict describes in detail the problem that was solved. For instance, lack of access to clean water in the community.
  • The rising action describes the process that leads to the impact.
  • The climax describes exactly when and how the resolution plan came about.
  • The falling action describes the relieving moment after finding the avenue to solve the problem.
  • The resolution describes the result of the action and the ultimate impact for the characters.
Source: Misprinted Pages

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15 Nonprofit Impact Narrative Tips to Follow

1. Ask open-ended questions

When interviewing characters for your impact narrative, use open-ended questions to get the most out of their responses. Doing so will encourage them to share more about their experiences as opposed to closed-ended questions which can be answered in a one-word response.

Here’s an example of the distinction between the two:

  • Closed-ended: “Was your family impacted by our after-school program?”
  • Open-ended: “Can you explain how your family was impacted by our after-school program?”

2. Don’t forget to highlight donor generosity

One of the biggest mistakes made in impact narratives is forgetting to highlight the generosity of the nonprofit’s donors. It would be impossible to make any impact without the donors’ support, so it’s important to thank them for their generosity and to recognize how much it means to your nonprofit and your target population.

3. Use captivating imagery

While most of your time will probably be spent on writing the narrative story, don’t forget about the importance of images! Including captivating imagery in your impact narrative can help breathe live into the story and visually engage your audience.

It’s much easier for a reader to feel connected to a photo of a person than a written description of them. Taking photos throughout different stages of your program or project can ensure that when it comes time to create an impact narrative, you have the visual support you need already on hand.

4. Include sensory details

When setting the stage in your narrative and first describing your character, use sensory details to help immerse your readers into the story. Making an effort to include descriptions of all the senses–sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch—will help you write more descriptively and bring your story to life.

5. Create an engaging headline

While it’s easy to overlook the headline of your impact narrative, it’s one of the first things your readers will look at and will help determine whether they keep reading!

Make sure that you spend time crafting a title that draws your readers in from the start. A good way to find inspiration for a captivating header is to look at newspaper headlines and copy their format.

Here is an example of a strong headline from a World Vision impact story that also includes powerful visuals!

6. Choose the right time frame

It is important to choose a time frame for your story that is easy for the audience to track and follow. The longer a time frame is, the harder it can be to follow. It may be easier to remember all the details of a six-month-long story than a three-year-long one. 

7. Include other characters

We all know that an important change in a single person’s life can impact other people’s lives around them such as their friends, family, or colleagues. It is important to include these additional characters in your story if they are relevant to your impact. 

For example, empowering an individual to be financially independent can be the root of breaking the poverty cycle for an entire family. When writing the impact, you should consider the change in all family members’ lives.

8. Make it easy to follow

Your audience shouldn’t struggle to follow the direction of your impact narrative. Your story should have a logical sequence or flow to it: First, tell them what the problem was. Second, tell them the service you offered to solve the problem. Third, show them the impact your solution made. 

9. Focus on quality over quantity

As nonprofits workers, we want to show donors a massive impact. But many of us forget that a massive impact doesn’t necessarily mean impacting a large group of people. 

The most powerful impact stories that grasp donors’ attention are the ones that focus on an individual. It is easier to draft a well-organized individual story that touches the audience's heart and motivates donors.

10. Write for your audience

Due to the large scale of your impact narrative’s audience, the same style of messaging may not be appealing to all of them. That’s why it’s important to customize your narrative based on the different segments of your audience. 

For example, a story that is written to appeal to small first-time donors might not resonate with large donors who have been giving to your nonprofit for years. 

11. Use statistical data to enhance your story

Including well-organized data with reliable sources in your story will give it more credibility. However, the data you include should enhance your story, not overpower it. Focusing too heavily on the numbers might detract from the personal nature of the story. 

Below is a great example of an impact story from Habitat for Humanity. They lead with the anecdotal and individual story details first and then include relevant data to boost the credibility to their story overall.

12. Avoid exaggerating details

While it might be tempting to embellish details in your story to make it more dramatic, don’t. Impact narratives should tell real stories that happened and your readers will be able to tell if you are exaggerating the truth. 

Focus on using evidence-based sources, examples, and images that are well described and that sound realistic to readers. You never want your audience (and especially your donors) to question the reliability of your narrative. 

13. Be concise

A well-written impact narrative should be about 1 to 2 pages in length and take a few minutes to read. It’s easy for writers to go off on tangents and lose the focus of the overall point. To avoid that, you should outline your story before writing it to help you stay on track. 

14. Use multiple media platforms

Today, social media can help you reach millions of people in no time. Depending on your nonprofit’s capacity to do so, it is worth taking advantage of different multimedia by either cutting your story into small videos or making blogs and uploading them to different media platforms.

15. Update your story

Once you share your impact story, you can boost your nonprofit’s credibility by regularly updating the story on what happened in your character’s life next. Doing so can show your audience the difference your work makes over an extended period of time.

Additional Impact Narrative Examples to Bookmark

Charity: Water, a nonprofit that provides clean water to those in need in developing countries, wrote an engaging impact story to highlight its impact on a boy and all the villagers forever. 

Feeding America, a nonprofit dedicated to ending hunger through food provision across America, used a blog and video to tell how its action changed Lamont’s life.

These impact narratives are great examples of stories that are engaging, include comprehensive details, use emotive language, and have good structure. These nonprofits also chose compelling characters that represent their target populations and clearly demonstrated the impact of their services on them.

Wrapping Up: How to Write an Impact Narrative for Nonprofits

The purpose of an impact narrative is to attract more donors, partners, or volunteers to your nonprofit by showing the world the impact you are making in people's lives.

The steps and tips provided in this article should help you plan, structure, and use emotive language in your stories to touch your readers' hearts and minds. Telling engaging stories with compelling characters will help you raise awareness of the incredible work of your nonprofit and the impact it has on its target population.

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