min read

story knife

The story knife is a traditional Yupik toy from the region of the Togiak River. Usually made from wood or bone, young girls would use story knives to sketch pictures on the ground or on snowy banks. The original purpose was to entertain and teach lessons to their younger siblings through drawings.

Other times, story knives were used as a tool to play guessing games. The viewers would try to guess the artist’s subject as they drew (the original Pictionary!). Sometimes accompanied by songs, knife stories communicate the importance of an image in creating interaction between the storyteller and the audience.

When telling your story, don’t forget to incorporate a strong image or two to solidify your message. Consider creating a story through images alone by creating an infographic that communicates your funding progress or impact like this one used by University of Colorado’s Bridges2Prosperity team.


Hula, a form of Polynesian dance, tells the story of Hawaiian history and culture. Hula not only acts as an entertaining and beautiful dance but as a language: there are many hand motions used to represent the words in a song or chant. For example, hand movements can signify aspects of nature, such as the swaying of a tree in the breeze or a wave in the ocean, or a feeling or emotion, such as fondness or yearning. The visual dance form combines hand movements with song or chants to communicate creation, mythology, royalty, and other significant events and people to its viewers.

Just as hula incorporates hand movement, chant, and dance, think about how you can take a mixed-media approach to your fundraising. Create an ecosystem of different content and tactics like images, videos, social posts, or even (dare we say) flash mobs to capture the attention of diverse audiences and keep people engaged.


Originating in Italy, sonnets are a very definitive form of poetry. A sonnet is a fourteen lined poem that follows a specific rhyme scheme and structure. Sonnets are used to tell both religious stories and for overall meditative purposes. A very popular sonneteer was William Shakespeare, who used the art form to present stories to an audience by bringing images and sounds to life through words.

With their rigid, short structure, Sonnets show us it’s important to tell our stories concisely. Aim for to-the-point descriptions (between 250-350 words) that incorporate the most important elements (need, impact, and budget) to create a narrative that is informative but easily digested.


Zajal is a traditional style of oral poetry. This Arabic form of poetry is very popular in the Middle East. Both semi-improvised and semi-sung, Zajal creates a platform for debate. Often accompanied by musical instruments, poets would perform stanzas at each other. The poets together create one story.

Diverse voices are important to inject nuance and raise the likelihood of personal resonance for supporters. Try incorporating the voices of different individuals that will feel the impact of your fundraising efforts as a way to expand your story past your own perspective like this video from Colorado State University.

Shadow puppetry

Shadow Puppetry is an ancient form of storytelling that originated thousands of years ago during the Han Dynasty. To illustrate the power a shadow truly has, a puppeteer holds cut-out figures between a source of light and a wall to tell folk stories and illustrate Chinese traditions. Puppetry became an art form valued by the Chinese working class. Often performed at weddings, parties, or funerals, the art form was the heart of many communities.

Shadow puppeteers must embody many characters, changing their voice and movement based on which puppet they’re using. Consider the different angles of your story: how can you incorporate different points of views or explore the different value propositions you are offering to your audience?


Cunto is an ancient Sicilian form of storytelling that brings together aspects of Greek theatre and improvisation. Most commonly, storytellers speak of heroic tales, both the successes and the struggles. Often told from a small stage, performers tell stories through a combination of song and words.

Live events like a stage performance are a powerful way to bring people together through experiences. Tie in live events with any fundraiser as a way to showcase your efforts, connect individuals with the people they are impacting, and include people who you might not reach digitally.


Fables can be found in the literary history of many countries. Known as one of the most enduring forms of folk literature, fables are fictional stories that conclude with the teaching of a moral lesson. Fables often feature anthropomorphized objects such as animals who are given the power to speak the human language. Fables master the art of using intriguing characters to catch the viewer’s attention and leave them with overarching lessons.

Today, individuals want to know exactly what, and more specifically who, their donation is impacting. Make sure you place people at the center of your story as characters to illustrate the moral good or positive change you’re championing.

cave paintings

Cave paintings refer to the images and engravings found in caves, mostly in Spain and France. As one of the earliest forms of storytelling, cave painting illustrates the power an image can have even with the absence of words. Animal figures and handprints are some of the most common representations found in caves. Although the exact meaning of cave paintings is unknown, experts consider most to be of a symbolic or religious function, sometimes even both.

No offense to early cave painters, but their paintings were fairly rudimentary! Still, each story is clear. The lesson? Instead of focusing on high-production values when creating your images and videos, instead, make sure you are telling a clear story with content assets that are individually impactful or emotionally resonant. You don’t need to have a huge budget to make something people will remember!


This Japenese form of entertainment was invented by Buddhist monks in the 9th and 10th centuries. Initially, this form of verbal storytelling was used to make religious sermons more interesting or entertain feudal lords seeking new forms of entertainment. A lone storyteller sits on a stage, never standing from the traditional seiza sitting position, and tells a long and intricate comical story. Like comedians today, the performer, known as a hanashika, uses humor to his advantage and transforms day to day tales into captivating performances.

Smiles are universal, don’t be afraid to add a little humor to your story! Try inserting some fun into your video, specifically, like this example from Whittier College.


Calligraphy can be defined as, “the art of giving form to signs in an expressive, harmonious, and skillful manner”. This visual form of art used all over the world, truly combines beauty with language. For Muslims, calligraphy acts as the visual expression of the spiritual world, linking language with religion through expert artistry. From functional use to fine art, the execution of delicate lettering is an appealing way to tell a story.

An optimized user experience is a make-or-break aspect of any digital fundraising campaign. Try user testing your sites before you launch with a small group of students, faculty, and/or relevant shareholders to make sure your site is clean, easy to navigate, and beautiful.


West African storytellers, known as a Griots,  are narrators of culture. They express stories of tradition through song, chants, and poetry. These “praise singers” are often accompanied by a kora, a popular African string instrument.  A blend of passion and language result in these noble messengers of history.

Just as Griots are constant storytellers who iterate their narratives as culture evolves and significant events occur, make sure you, too, keep your fundraising efforts relevant.  Whether there is a recent milestone you can celebrate, an event you can support, or a misfortune to which you can provide aid, make sure you’re keeping up with current events in your community to give urgent purpose to your fundraising.


Bharatanatyam is a beautiful form of  Indian classical dance. This traditionally solo dance originated in Tamil Nadu and is performed only by women. Bharatanatyam is famous for the unique position the dancer, or Devadasis, remains in: knees bent with a fixed torso. The impressive footwork of the dancer and the sign language like gestures of the hands results in the telling of stories. Historically, the dance shares tales from the Hindu religion, including mythical legends and spiritual ideas. To mark the entrance of new characters or events, the dancer uses specific hand gestures or intentional spins.

Bharatanatyam is a dance of precision. The timing and exact movements are critical to the artform. To make sure your communication mirrors this precision, try creating a content calendar so you have all of your communications written, edited, and scheduled well before your launch.


Calypso is an Afro-Carribean style of music born in Trinidad and Tobago in the early to mid 20th century. This form of musical rhymes acted as a platform for individuals to challenge the potential wrongdoings of the government. Calypso allowed all people to express themselves, helping write the history of their culture. From daily struggles to government exploitation, Calypso truly is the voice of its people.

Make sure you empower fundraising efforts that are championed by authentic storytellers rather than a professional fundraiser in a central office. This starts by giving people the tools to participate, such as sourcing crowdfunding initiatives from student organizations or faculty research projects and training them to run their own campaigns.

Katie Haystead

Katie Haystead

Senior Vice President, Partnerships

With over a decade of experience working with K12 schools and higher education institutions’ fundraising efforts, Katie Haystead now oversees the partnerships team at Community Funded. Her passion for partner success and satisfaction aligns with Community Funded’s priorities and Katie’s unique background is well suited to manage the day to day operations of our partnerships team as well as new market acquisition.

Prior to joining the team at Community Funded, Katie served many roles within the Fundraising Division at Ruffalo Noel Levitz. Her experience ranges from working onsite and remotely with clients executing phonathon programs, developing annual giving strategies, onsite consultations and also developing multichannel strategies allowing for strong synergy between annual giving channels and creating strong major and planned gift pipelines.

Katie is based in Metro Detroit and is a graduate of Central Michigan University, where she worked for the phonathon for 3 years while working towards her History Major.

Kim Jennings

Kim Jennings

Senior Generosity Strategist, Generis

Kim Jennings, CFRE is a skilled fundraising leader who believes in the power of Christian education to raise up thoughtful, strong, committed leaders who can make our world a better place for all.

Kim Jennings

Todd Turner

Director of Digital Strategies, Generis

In addition to his 11 years overseeing Chuck Swindoll’s Insight Living Ministries communications department, Todd Turner has worked as a digital strategist for faith based organizations across the globe..

Kim Jennings

Jennifer Perrow

Senior Generosity Strategist, Generis

Jennifer is a skilled fundraising and communications professional who helps ministries articulate vision, communicate mission, and raise abundant funds to advance Kingdom priorities.