Stories are how we make sense of the world. They help us decide what we believe in or don’t, fight for or against. We all have a story to tell but what makes it compelling? That’s the question we at Momentum Communications Group grapple with as we tell stories of organizations making a difference in their communities.

Not all stories are created equal. It’s much easier to convince a journalist to write about a nonprofit’s   efforts to support migrants coming into New York City than its 30th anniversary gala. That celebration may be important to the organization but for reporters? Not so much. So what about a story makes a reporter give an enthusiastic “yes”? Here are some ingredients:

Step 1: What’s the problem (and solution)?

The media loves conflict. We see it in the headlines every day. But like us, journalists can get burnt out on negativity. That’s why it’s important nonprofits position their resources as solutions. For example, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a lack of personal protective equipment like face masks. Momentum helped one client sound the alarm by booking him on NBC Nightly News to recount how he paid exorbitant prices on the black market just to ensure the safety of his staff. That story led to a crackdown on the dealer by the FBI.

Step 2: Credibility

Just as important as the content of your story is who tells it. Prove to the journalist that your spokesperson is both an expert in a particular field and can speak about it authoritatively. Even more importantly, you must stand out from the crowd. Any evidence you can share that differentiates your storyteller from the countless sources a journalist has at their disposal will increase your chance of success. This could be in the form of specific talking points that break from the status quo or a personal experience unique to them.

Step 3: Compelling characters

Your spokesperson serves as the topic expert of your story but it also needs compelling characters with whom the audience can relate. These are the people who can provide a “street level” perspective to an issue. You’ll know you have a strong character if you are instantly drawn in by their story and personality. These traits are especially important in telling sensitive stories. When one of Momentum’s clients wanted to protest a proposal by the governor of New York to try juveniles as adults, we proposed using one of their staff who had been incarcerated as a teen.

Step 4: Timeliness

The news cycle moves fast. The recent solar eclipse became old news no less than a day later, joining the New York earthquake of the previous week. There are always exceptions but if you have a story that is connected to a hot topic in the news, you must strike while the iron is hot. Following the passing of President George H.W. Bush, we immediately got on the phone with a client who worked in political polarization – and grew up in Texas – to craft an op-ed within the same day. That piece was soon after published in The Houston Chronicle.

All of these ingredients won’t guarantee your nonprofit’s story will be told right away, but they will help cook up a compelling pitch that will get a journalist’s attention.