It’s common to tell stories about your nonprofit. But many of those stories fall short of their potential. Why? Because they talk about what your organization does instead of showing the impact it has for real-life people. 

What happens if nonprofits instead let their clients, students, patients, scientists and program leaders tell their own stories – from their own perspective? 

A lot. 

First-person stories provide important context

First-person stories can raise more money and deepen donors’ trust. By using first-person stories, you can give your audience important context by:

  • Showcasing how you’re fulfilling your mission. 
  • Showing the important gap you fill in the community – rather than just informing people of the facts. 
  • Inspiring people to see your organization as a good investment – of time and/or money – in the change they hope to contribute to.

What traditional nonprofit storytelling looks like

Here’s a hypothetical example of how most nonprofits tell stories:

“When April started the 9th grade, she could only read at a 5th-grade level. When April’s English teacher realized how far behind she was, she quickly called Cascadia Learning Center. Soon April’s teachers and tutor, Tanya, from the Cascadia Learning Center were working through the fundamentals of reading and comprehension. And every day they saw her progress. 

For the first time, April was ready for September to arrive. She confidently started 10th grade. Not only did her English and history grades go up, so did her math, science and geography grades. By the 11th grade, April’s teacher and Tanya knew that college – if April wanted it – was in her future. Before winter break began, April had been accepted into two of the five schools she applied to.” 

What first-person storytelling looks like:

Here’s what that same story looks like, told in first person: 

“For most of my life, I was able to hide my struggle to read. That changed when my 9th grade English teacher asked me why I wasn’t turning in my homework. Finally, I told her that I wasn’t doing my homework because it was too hard. The next week my teacher introduced me to my new tutor, Tanya, from the Cascadia Learning Center, and they helped make sure none of my classmates knew that I was getting extra help. 

On the first day of 10th grade, I walked into class ready to learn everything. The most exciting thing about learning to read was realizing how much of the world there is to discover – different places and cultures. When my teachers and tutor started talking to me about applying to college, I was a bit overwhelmed. But now I’ve got two acceptance letters on my fridge.”

First-person stories tap into people’s values

Because first-person stories are set up so the subject is talking directly to the audience, the reader feels like the story is being told to them, from a deeply personal perspective. This sincere vulnerability offers an opportunity to naturally get to know someone and reflect on your own values. The reader can better understand a patient’s hope or a teenager’s determination. They can hear a scientist’s excitement in sharing their discoveries and feel a farmer’s gratitude for the clean water legislation that will protect his farm. 

You can use first-person, personal stories to:

  • Craft compelling print and digital appeals.
  • Thank donors for their support and share how their gifts help others. 
  • Inspire donors to see your vision for the future as you launch campaigns, develop your case statements and present donors with proposals. 
  • Build a relationship with your nonprofit’s leadership. 
  • Share your work on your website and in your newsletters, annual reports and social media. 
  • Strengthen your community at your fundraising events. 

Getting started: Decide who to feature

First-person stories can come from different perspectives – from people including your volunteers, staff members and donors. 

Here’s an example of a first-person story, told from a donor’s perspective: 

When my mom was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, I wasn’t surprised. The disease runs in our family and she had subtle symptoms that we all wanted to ignore. But I was scared and heartbroken for her because I knew she was going to lose her independence. How would she knit, bake, garden or play chess with her grandkids?

When a friend recommended the NW Parkinson’s Support Network, my eyes opened to the life she still had to live. For three years, mom made twice-weekly trips to the community center where nurses and therapists hosted activities that helped her keep moving. Once a month our whole family participated in a weekend event where we did something fun with my mom and met other people whose loved ones were living with this difficult illness. 

By hosting events like these, NW Parkinson’s Support Network gave my mom the BEST last years of her life. I know dozens of families just like mine who also benefit from their services and programs. Every year on my mom’s birthday, I make a gift to the NW Parkinson’s Support Network in her honor. Today, I’m asking you to join me in supporting this essential resource in our community. With your gift, you are giving the BEST last years to people like my mom and their families.”

Step 2: Decide who will write the story

Someone on your nonprofit team should interview the subject and write the story. Don’t ask clients, patients, volunteers or donors to write their story for you. It’s too big of an ask and a lot of people struggle to connect with their authentic voice when they’re faced with a blank page. But they’re almost always incredibly grateful when you write it and bring it to life for them. 

Another pro tip: Record and transcribe your interviews so that you can free up your attention to truly listen and have a meaningful conversation rather than have to take notes. Having a transcript also helps you ask thoughtful follow-up questions. 

Remember: Use the stories at your fingertips

Now that you’re thinking about first-person stories, you might realize that there are already lots of them at your fingertips. Here are a few ideas of where you’ll find them:


Your clients, volunteers, board members already tell their stories at your events. Ask the speakers from each of your events if you can shift their speech into a story and share it on your website, in a newsletter, or as a long quote on social media. These can then be repurposed for appeals and thank you letters. 


Anytime your nonprofit has put together a video that features your clients, patients, students, beneficiaries or staff, you’re using first-person storytelling. When your videographers are interviewing the people featured in your video, have them tell a comprehensive story about their experience and relationship with your nonprofit. Get these interviews transcribed and turn them into written first-person stories.


Most nonprofits use a leader to be the “author” of their appeals. Sometimes, the executive director or development director will tell a little bit of another person’s story. But third-hand is harder to connect with. Instead, let that person directly tell their own story and ask for the community’s support.

Do you need help developing stories?

As a leading nonprofit content marketing agency, we’d love to help you dive deeper into your storytelling strategy and find the best voice, tone and direction for your organization. Learn more about the creative approach and scope of our nonprofit content marketing services. 

Need more inspiration? Read a first-person story we wrote for the Children’s Oncology Group Foundation newsletter: Jade’s Hope for a Future with More Equitable Care. 

If you want to trade ideas, fill out our How Can We Help? form. Feel free to add links, share challenges or ask questions. We’ll get back to you within a day or so!


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