Recently I’ve been re-reading Robert McKee’s Story. If you haven’t yet read this book, and you are tasked with communications for your nonprofit, then I would definitely get it from the library at the very least. After I accrued some terrible library fines, I bought my own copy.


Why should you tell a story?

My friend Vanessa Chase, author of The Storytelling Nonprofit, can give you LOTS of reasons to tell a story. But probably the most important reasons are to incite emotions in your reader.

Here are a two of the emotions you want to create in your reader: 

  • Curiosity– close open patterns
  • Concern-emotional need to hold the positive values-justice, strength, survival, love, truth, courage.


Here’s how a typical well-told story breaks down, according to Robert McKee. YES you can use this as a framework to hold your story on.

  1. Conflict/Inciting incident
  2. Composition/Complication
  3. Crisis/Dragon that guards the object of desire
  4. Climax/Meaning produces emotion
  5. Resolution/Combination of spectacle and truth -which Keeps the tension going and spread climactic effects


Example? I will only too gladly give you an example! Because now I get to talk about the recent King Arthur movie, directed by Guy Ritchie, which, by the way, was excellent, and I highly recommend that you see it.

  1. Conflict/Inciting incident = Arthur watches his parents get murdered, and flows down the river in a boat as his uncle gets all the power.
  2. Composition/Complication = He gets taken into a brothel, and then as he grows up, he takes the beatings, the drudgery and meaninglessness of life and turns to organized crime, which he does very well at.
  3. Crisis/Dragon that guards the object of desire = King Vortigan determines to find Arthur and even though he doesn’t want to be a hero, and struggles to get away, Vortigan decides he needs to be put to death.
  4. Climax/Meaning produces emotion = Arthur escapes but then watches his friends die, his treasure plundered and his home burned down. His grief takes his resistance apart. He can’t take it anymore. He MUST fight.
  5. Resolution/Combination of spectacle and truth -After a big fight with Vortigan, Arthur and his surviving friends win. More than that, he creates a round table where people will be able to share ideas and co-lead with him. Setting us up for the next movie. But honestly this movie could stand alone. That’s how good it is.


That doesn’t sound that exciting when you lay it out baldly like that. But imagine you could do this technique with your next appeal letter- and make it as fascinating as this movie was.


Let’s apply this framework to a social justice nonprofit story.

I deliberately chose a tricky one, because let’s face it, it’s hard to get people to give to social justice when they see homelessness nonprofits ask. That’s a clear cause-effect in their minds. Plus, why make it easy for myself?

First, since you have a cause that… could technically have no beginning and no end, you have to CHOOSE what aspect to focus on, and where to start. That’s the hard part. So, what’s the Conflict/Inciting incident?

  1. Conflict/Inciting incident- History of racism-A police shooting of an unarmed man
  2. Composition/Complication – Policeman has clean record-Man does not
  3. Crisis/Dragon that guards the object of desire -Justice system is set to rule against man
  4. Climax/Meaning produces emotion -Nonprofit testifies about systemic racism-Judge rules in favor of justice
  5. Resolution/Combination of spectacle and truth -which Keeps the tension going and spread climactic effects – Sets a new precedent for cases of this kind in this region.


Want more?

Here’s more advice from Robert McKee and KING ARTHUR


Want 43+ more tips on how to write successful appeal letters? Just go here!