Email strategy, Community engagement

Building Compelling Stories: Fundamentals of the Narrative Email

As mission-driven organizations, nonprofits are constantly innovating their approach to messaging. And yet we return, time and again, to the most classic approach to engagement: storytelling. Through compelling and authentic storytelling, we deepen our relationships with supporters. When you communicate personal and earnest stories with clarity and detail, a long-form email can be a compelling way to share a story that strengthens supporters’ commitment to your cause.

Long-form emails should be part of a carefully balanced cadence of messaging – one that constantly offers diversity in content to sustain engagement and maximize value. Making the most of a long-form email requires choosing the right opportunities to utilize the form and activating all of its narrative elements toward your intended impact. To help guide you, our content experts shared some of the fundamentals of a long-form email:

Know when a story is right for long-form.

A long-form email will inherently look and feel different from anything else your organization sends out: the fundraising email, the newsletter, the social media post. In nature, it is not explicitly tactical and its value lies in the emotional connection it offers to its readers. The urgency that compels readers to take action is more personal than strategies typically used in fundraising emails. To that end, nonprofits should think about a particular moment when and messenger for whom a long-form email would be most effective. An end-of-month fundraising deadline or natural disaster may not be right, but a certain anniversary or story from someone connected to or impacted by your organization’s service could be.

Who tells the story, and how, matters.

Once you’ve determined that a subject carries the emotional weight and depth to call for a long-form email, it is important to consider who should be the voice behind the message. This form is highly effective for relaying either first-hand experiences of the positive influence your organization has had or the sobering reality of the challenges your organization is actively working to solve. To that end, the surrogate should be someone with a personal story tied to your mission that your supporters can relate to.

Authenticity is essential. Our experts suggest immersing yourself in the voice you are writing in by sourcing inspiration from existing content. As you draft and revise, remember that the personal feel of a long-form email lives in its tone; line by line, word by word, the narrative should read as if it is addressing someone sitting across the table.

A good story is built from a solid structure.

Just like the plot of any good story, a long-form email should be built with a beginning, middle, and end, as well as rising action that will compel someone toward your ultimate ask. When it comes to the structure of a long-form email, we like to keep these elements in mind:

  • Begin with a hook. Whether it’s a moving quote, a jarring fact, or a brutal reality, an opening should introduce stakes to a reader, right at the top, that will justify the length of the piece they are about to read.
  • Build momentum with a theme in mind. It’s important that each paragraph build off the last, progressing toward an end that aligns with the larger ‘why’ of the narrative.
  • Strong endings bring the reader into the narrative. As your conclusion ties back to larger ideas in the story, it should also reveal the reader’s role in the issues at hand. After all the work you’ve done to hook a reader, to earn their investment, don’t be too shy to say: We shared this with you for a reason, and your actions can have an impact on this story.

Long-form narratives are valuable for deepening supporters’ engagement and lifelong connection to a cause. For other tactics to cultivate long-term relationships with supporters, check out our blog on donor retention. Or, to find inspiration for your shortest-form content, give our blogs on subject lines or launching an SMS program a read.