There are a lot of ways nonprofit organizations can tell their stories. Most often, nonprofit storytelling is referenced in terms of organizations creating and sharing their own stories. But what about tapping into the power of stories that are already being told, specifically those in the media? This is one area where traditional nonprofits can take a cue from advocacy groups to tap into issues that are already top of mind for the public.

Advocacy groups often rely on the news cycle to drum up support and activate their constituents. They tap into the power of topics that are top of mind for people—big stories in the media or conversations online—and then they ask them to take action. The reason why this works so well is that they are riding the wave of a story that is already being told at great scale.

The good news (pun intended) is that all nonprofits can use this strategy to increase their visibility and get in front of current and prospective donors.

Here are three steps your organization can take to start leveraging the power of the news cycle to tell your stories and raise money:

Keep a Pulse on the News

In order to respond to current events that are relevant to your organization, you have to know what’s happening. But this doesn’t mean that you have to be consuming news all the time. You can set up formulas using or use Google Alerts to stay informed. Setting up designated lists in Hootsuite for social listening can also be very helpful.

The key is that you need to know what’s going on so that you can respond in a timely manner and be a part of the conversation.

Here’s an example, let’s say that your organization has a homeless shelter and the city that you live in has recently cut funding for local homeless shelters. The story about the city’s funding decision is in the news, and it is a perfect opportunity for your organization to comment.

Respond in a Timely Fashion

If your organization is going to respond to stories in the news cycle, you have to do so in a timely fashion. Waiting a week to respond to a story the local TV stations were covering means that you’ve likely missed the opportunity. People have moved on to something else and are focused on what’s happening now.

All that is to say, if there’s something happening in the news that is relevant to your organization do not wait to respond. Sometimes it’s best to be the first one with an opinion or analysis than it is to wait until you have something perfect to say. Waiting means that others have already seized the opportunity and added their voices to the conversation.

For example, in Canada there was recently a huge national trial for a former CBC journalist, Jian Ghomeshi, who was on trial for sexually assaulting multiple women. Unfortunately, he was acquitted of all charges. The moment the news broke that he was acquitted would have been the ideal time for sexual assault support centers to comment and remind their donors of the increasing need for their support.

Have an Ask

In online advocacy, the ask will often be to sign a petition, contact a politician, or help spread a message. If your organization is not involved in policy work, your ask should be for a donation. Not only is the issue top of mind, but this moment gives you an opportunity to remind your supporters how you are working to solve the problem and the important role they each play in creating a solution.

Going back to the example that I shared above from the Jian Ghomeshi trial, if I were writing an email for a sexual support center, the ask would be something like this:

The justice system may not support women, but you can. Show survivors that you not only believe them, but you want to help them heal. Your donation of $100 can provide 2 hours of counselling support to a survivor of sexual violence. Make a donation today.

Not only does this ask voice an opinion and commentary on a hot topic, it gives people a way to take action in a moment of injustice. And that is how you can make a connection between news stories and your organization.

If you’re interested in learning more about fundraising on the news cycle, I’d recommend listening to an interview I gave on this topic for the Driving Participation podcast.

Political Giving


Vanessa Chase Lockshin founded The Storytelling Non-Profit in 2012 to help nonprofit organizations articulate their impact to donors in a new way. Using narrative techniques to generate greater personal interest and accountability, Vanessa helps nonprofits improve their fundraising success. Vanessa’s fundraising career started at The University of British Columbia, her alma mater. Currently, Vanessa is president of The Storytelling Nonprofit, co-founder of Stewardship School, and board chair of Women Against Violence Against Women.

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