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What Nonprofits Can Learn From Peter Pan

Guest Blog by Dennis Fischman


People say there’s a part of me that’s got to be permanently twelve years old. I love children’s books.

In my house, there’s a shelf of them: some picture books, some chapter books, some classics, some translated into Spanish.  And I should probably take them off my taxes as a professional expense.  They have taught me how to write.

What can children’s books and their big cousins, YA fiction, teach us about telling our companies’ stories?


  1. Start with an improbable hero.  Zoom in on one person.  An ordinary person, because our readers need to identify with him or her.  That could be Harry Potter or Halla from Travel Light–or it could be your nonprofit’s client.
  2. Give them a challenge. It’s not a story if nothing’s going wrong. Here’s your chance to show the problem that your client faces (whether it’s poverty, illness, bad schools, or bad air) and make it real to your reader.
  3. Show their character.  When she struggles, your client shows who she really is.  She has no superpowers or magic: only the qualities that make her human.
  4. Give them helpers.  Of course, this includes your organization.  But this is  your golden opportunity to…
  5. Bring the reader into the story.  J.M. Barrie did that overtly in Peter Pan: “If you believe,” he shouted to them, “clap your hands; don’t let Tink die.”  Most do it more subtly. But if you ever refused to come in for dinner until you finished the chapter, you know what it feels like to take the hero’s place.

Great writers make us feel that the ending of the story depends on us.

When you write newsletters, appeal letters, blog posts–even Facebook posts and tweets–how do you make your supporters into the hero of the story?

Dennis Fischman runs Communicate! Consulting, where he helps nonprofit organizations win loyal friends and get the support they need. Passionate about social change, he left a senior management position at a nonprofit agency to help nonprofit organizations tell their stories in person, in writing, and through social media. Find Dennis on Facebook and follow him on Twitter (@DennisFischman).


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