3 Lessons in Storytelling from a CFO


The latest buzzword in the business world. It makes sense in the marketing space, because I’d sure rather hear a story about how a product or service changed someone’s life than have a stranger shout BUY THIS! BUY THIS! BUY THIS! or DONATE! DONATE! DONATE! at me.

I just got back from the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference in Orlando where I led a session on Storytelling with Financials. I taught leaders how to use metrics within their basic financial statements to build a more robust story about their organization. Instead of saying, we are financially healthy and sustainable, why not calculate your months of cash on hand and revenue diversity to add color to that story?

(Quick side note: Do you want the financial metrics calculator I shared at the conference so you, too, can tell a more robust story about your organization? Grab it here!)

Today I want to share a few super practical tidbits I learned at the conference about storytelling that are applicable whether you’re a nonprofit leader looking to increase donations OR an entrepreneur looking to grow your business through various methods of communication.

Let’s do it!

  1. People only read the top and bottom of your letter, email, etc. So make your point quickly, tell them exactly what you want them to do, and repeat it in the bottom third of your communication too. You can use the body of your email to go into more detail for the few who may read it, but dive right into the point of your communication FAST. You have approximately four seconds to make a quick impression on your reader which will determine if they continue reading or not.
  2. Talk about outcomes and how they impact the reader. Don’t talk about yourself, your organization, or your experience all over your website, email, or letter. Frankly, people don’t care that you have a Master’s degree or that your organization has been around for 15 years. Talk about what people DO care about: THEMSELVES. Share how your services can help them and the outcomes they might experience.
  3. Your call to action must be super clear. When people are reading your website, email, or letter, what do you want them to do? Surely you don’t want them to read and delete, right? You may want them to donate, invest, partner, schedule a call, sign up, so TELL THEM. Make this call to action clear and consistent by including line breaks, making the font larger and bold, or adding a colorful button.

AND! I have one bonus tidbit for the nonprofits out there that comes straight from Lori Jacobwith of Ignited Fundraising and speaks to my finance heart.

Your money story must accompany all other stories so that people understand what it takes to do your work.

Let’s not pretend that we can operate on pennies. We need to make investments into our organizations and our people because that’s the only way we can make a greater impact on the communities we serve. And, we need to tell potential donors what it really costs to run our programs and cast a vision of the financial support we’ll need to be sustainable for the long-term.

My talk on Storytelling with Financials shared exactly how to tell your numbers story, so I was thrilled when Lori shared that gem.

Your Next Steps:

If you want to tell a better, more robust story about your organization, grab our financial metrics calculator here.

Better yet, if you’re ready to be a more confident leader who makes better decisions for your organization based on your financials, join us to Master Your Nonprofit Numbers! (And because you found us here on the 100DC website, use coupon code FRIEND35 for 35% off tuition!)

The Nonprofit Storytelling Conference was one of the best I’ve attended and I hope to return in 2019. Traveling to San Diego in October won’t be half bad either! Do you want to attend? Check it out here.