The Organizer #35 | Communications

How do I tell a story? Use the Story Spine to paint a memorable picture of your organization's work.

Storytelling is easier with the Story Spine

This is the tale of how the Story Spine helped a lot of good people change the world.

Once upon a time there was a fierce, idealistic, slightly grizzled nonprofit veteran and small band of creatives who wanted to help good people do good work without some of the heartache.

Every week they would craft a newsletter. In each newsletter, they would reflect on a common struggle and describe a helpful tool that could help make good work a little easier. The newsletters, it was hoped, would let readers that they weren’t alone.

One day, they decided to share a tool that would make storytelling easier for their readers: something called the Story Spine.

Suddenly, every reader knew how to tell a story. Even those who didn’t feel like great storytellers had a new spring in their step.

Friends campaigning for environmental protection, allies anxious about their fundraising appeals, and everyone meeting family around a dinner table was able to use the Story Spine. They all built connections with the people they met. They made their missions memorable and their communities grew.

From then on, they could harness the power of storytelling whenever they wanted … and good work became just a little bit easier.

What is the Story Spine?

Often called the Pixar Formula, it is a simple structure for turning any set of actions into a story. You can use it in nonprofit work to show your impact, to communicate a vision, to describe how a project unfolded. By using this structure, you turn a set of facts and actions into a memorable narrative. 

It goes like this:

Once upon a time …

Every day …

But, one day …

Because of that …

And because of that …

Because of that …

Until finally …

And ever since then …

Use the Story Spine every day

You can use this tool every day. Use it to describe your mission to the media or to donors. It can be a great framework for explaining the impact of your work to funders and members. It’s a great tool for planning your next video project or speech. Any time you want people to understand what you do and why, try using the Story Spine to paint a memorable picture.

The Story Spine was designed by a theatre teacher and perfected by the Pixar film studio. Now it’s yours to use and enjoy.

How to use the Story Spine

The Organizer is a weekly newsletter for people working to create equitable and sustainable communities. Whether you are part of a nonprofit, a charity, or a social enterprise, this newsletter is for you.

Each week, we explore one aspect of social impact work. We answer a common “How do I …?” question, and we tell you about a tool that will help make your work a little easier. Subscribe for free at