Storytelling for Nonprofits

Written by Juliana Torres-Mason

🔉How to build a story with curiosity 🔊

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When I was first learning to talk, my toxic (yet adorable?) trait was to endlessly ask:  




I was never satisfied with the answer. 


My dad could present an accurate analysis of the scattering of short and long light waves through the atmosphere.  


And still! My follow-up question was: "But why does it do that?" 


The brunt of the questioning fell to my mom. Somewhere around the 391st “why?” of each day, she gave up.  


"Just… because!" 


A slight pause.  


"Why so because?"  


My grammar skills still had room for improvement… 😅 


So did my ability to ask good questions. Pro tip: An endless reel of the same question will not result in interesting answers.  


However, the skill that Preschool Jules nailed was open-ended curiosity.  


That’s clutch for telling the best stories, especially when the stories are about real people.  


And yes, curiosity is a skill to be developed.  


My guess is that your curiosity has swelled and receded during different periods of your life.  


Once, you were the visionary who dared to ask:  


WHY doesn’t this work?  


WHAT IF we invested time and energy into fixing it?  


HOW can a few resources multiply into life-transforming help? 

Later, the slow turn of change dulled the edge of your curiosity: 


Why did you come in today?  


What is your race and household income?  


How can we help you?  

Curiosity must be continually reborn. Without curiosity, your stories won’t be detailed enough to keep the interest of your readers and inspire new partners in your cause.  


So let’s put curiosity to work! This is the next step in building a compelling story.  


Step 1: You have your Story Thesis Statement prepped to frame the story within the mission of your organization. 


Step 2: You picked out a great story idea that SHOWS the impact of your organization.  


The client you want to feature is scheduled to come in and tell their story.  



How do you build a story around them?  


Start by listing out what you know about the person:  


Their circumstances. 


How your organization helped. 


Your impression of them when they first came in.  


How their demeanor changed over time. 


How they interact with your staff and/or other clients.  


Every tidbit of information and every story you’ve heard about them. Ask your staff for what they know.  

Write out everything. In no particular order.  


Take out a second page (or open a new document on your computer) and allow yourself to probe the gaps of your knowledge.  



What do you need to know to tell their complete story from beginning to end? 


What was your first question when they walked in? 


How did they find out about your organization? 


What do you know about their family and their background? 


Where do they live and work? What do they do with their free time?  


How were they educated? 


What makes their challenges particularly difficult? What gives them the drive to keep going? 


What makes the person unique?  

Accept nothing at face value!! 


Sure, they came for the assistance you offered. But that’s not where their story began.  


What don’t you know about their lives that could be relevant to the story you want to tell? 



Next week, we’ll discuss how to structure good questions that dive deep… and actually give you the answers you need to tell a compelling story.  


In the meantime, let your curiosity run wild!  


With endless curiousity, 

Juliana Torres-Mason  


~ The Nonprofit Storyteller ~   

(and IP owner of “Why so because”) 



P.S. If you want to skip to the end of the book and hire my agency to tell your organization’s stories, email me and let’s talk!