The Story of Self, Us, and Now: A Storytelling Hack for Your Crowdfunding Campaign


"I stand here knowing that my story is part of the larger American story," President Barak Obama declared on stage at the Democratic National Convention in 2004. Since that moment, thousands of journalists, activists, marketers, entrepreneurs, and leaders have embraced a revolutionary and powerful new way of telling a story.

Also known as the "Public Narrative," the Story of Self, Us, and Now is a storytelling approach developed by Harvard senior lecturer Marshall Ganz. The concept is that you first tell the story of yourself. Who are you? What are your goals? Values? Then, you share the story of your community and the challenge that has brought that community together. Finally, you tell the story of right now. This moment. The choices you have. The decision to make. The Story of Now means that you have the chance to ask your audience: Are you in?

Let's take a deeper look at how you could implement the Story of Self, Us, and Now for your crowdfunding campaign to rally donors and enrich your campaign narrative.

The Story of Self

The first step in the Public Narrative is to identify a leader (or leaders) of the campaign - and then tell their story. Why did they get involved in the organization, project, team, or cause? What drew them to it?

The Story of Self communicates the values of the leader(s), which in turn communicates the values of which the organization or project was built upon. It also establishes what the initial challenge or opportunity was that the leader(s) encountered and how they decided to address that problem.

So, for example, if you are raising money to build, launch, and compete with a rocket, perhaps the leader of the team was a student who initially got involved because they wanted their resume to stand out after they graduated. The challenge: Classwork alone isn't enough to land a great job post-college. The decision: To participate in an extracurricular that is aligned with their field of study.

It's important to note here, however, that everyone has their own Story of Self. Everyone got involved in a different, unique way. And all of those stories are meaningful to the larger story. For the campaign page, tell the story of your leader(s). For personal outreach, though, tell the story of yourself and how you got involved! Your own Story of Self.

The Story of Us

Now it's time to bring in the broader community. Who is involved with your crowdfunding campaign? Who cares about it? Maybe it's people leading the initiative, maybe it's the people affected by it, or maybe it's both!

The Story of Us is the collective story of the community. It's the shared purpose, vision, and values. It's what brings the campaign to life!

Similar to the Story of Self, the Story of Us should also include a challenge, a choice the community had to make, and the outcome of that choice.

Following the example above, maybe the rocket-launching team in question is primarily comprised of engineering students who also want to get good jobs after college. And when these students connected with each other, they realized that the challenge was bigger than "we need to prepare for our future jobs." It was actually about creating opportunities to grow, collaborate, and work with others who value the same things they do. It was about creating a rich, comprehensive educational experience for themselves and others.

The Story of Now

Your crowdfunding campaign is, essentially, the culmination of the Story of Self and the Story of Us. Without the campaign - without the Story of Now - the narrative dies.

The Story of Now underscores the action that the audience needs to take. It allows them to make the choice to be a part of your community and, in turn, your narrative. Just like President Obama said in 2004, he is only a part of the country's holistic story. Just like you are a part of a bigger narrative - a narrative that must include your audience.

Imagine if the rocket-launching team simply shared that they wanted to have real-world experiences to practice what they're learning in the classroom, but they just left it at that. There's a big chunk missing from that narrative: How can the audience help make it happen?

So share the story of right now. This moment. What challenge are you facing, and how can others join forces to support you in overcoming that challenge? Also consider that, while philanthropy isn't meant to be about "what's in it for me," it is critical that you tell your Story of Now knowing that donors do want to be a part of your story.

At the end of the day, you'll want to tell a story that includes challenges (what fun is a movie without villains?), your community's shared purpose and values, and opportunities for others to rally forces to change your lives and the world around you.

The best part is that crowdfunding is the perfect outlet to tell your team's Public Narrative:

The Story of Self. The Story of Us. The Story of Now.

Donors Engaged
Dollars Raised
Completed Campaigns