October 2, 2010; Mother Jones


Although this newswire draws on an article from a few years ago, the advice is still good. If anything, the storytelling fad is even more commonly as the answer to everyone’s troubles than it was in 2010.

The big new thing in nonprofit marketing is storytelling: making use of a compelling story or a powerful anecdote about your nonprofit’s mission to inspire clients, stakeholders, and most importantly, donors. By giving your activities a human face, you can spur support that all the facts and figures at your disposal cannot do. Many consultants and trainers have made a big cottage industry out of it.

But “storyteller” Sean Buvala says on his blog that there are limits to the power of storytelling. He says that “your stories must be true and they must be a central focus of your entire organization to work….I know both the power and the illusion of story. One of those illusions is that story always works in every situation.”

He goes on to list ten things storytelling will NOT do for a nonprofit:

  1. Fix difficult management.
  2. Correct a bad promise.
  3. Fix financial misbehavior.
  4. Keep your clients after bad service.
  5. Keep employees who are mistreated.
  6. Make people buy your widget [or donate to your cause].
  7. Force a “viral” anything.
  8. Replace all your other marketing [and fundraising activity].
  9. Survive the “gimmick” mentality.

10. Be free of charge.

Buvala, who has been speaking about and training clients in the use of story since 1986, is the executive director of He concludes, “Story still contains the same power to change lives, connect people and build communities just as it has done throughout history. Having realistic expectations of this tool will help you use story to its full potential.”—Larry Kaplan