Key Lesson Telling Stories About Impact

The Social Impact Story Map will get you started on your storytelling journey.

This tool is adapted from the Hero’s Journey, a tried and true model used to structure stories that capture people’s attention and imagination. It is a “formula” based on research about storytelling in many different cultures.

This is a flexible formula that works for telling many kinds of stories. We’ve adapted it specifically for telling stories about social impact.

The Social Impact Story Map helps you structure your story around key steps that comprise a narrative arc (referred to as the “hero’s journey”). There are four sections: (1) Status Quo & First Steps, (2) Obstacles & Allies, (3) Breakthrough, and (4) Impact

These four sections are broken down further into ten steps that you can use to map out your story from beginning to end. Some stories may cover all the steps, and some may touch on only a few. And that’s okay.

The map guides you through questions about the people (“characters”) in your story, doubts or concerns facing them, steps toward a possible solution, obstacles they encounter along the way, and ultimately the impact they make on people’s lives. Let’s get started on your Story Map to write an authentic, compelling story that your audience will want to experience.

The Social Impact Story Map

  1. Status Quo & First Steps:
    • Eyes Opened
    • Doubts Arise
    • Solutions Emerge
    • First Steps
  1. Obstacles & Allies:
    • Obstacles Encountered
    • Allies Join
  1. Breakthrough:
    • Action Taken
    • Breakthrough Occurs
  1. Impact & Call to Action:
    • Lives Are Changed
    • Lessons Shared
    • Call to Action

A moving video by charity:water follows this model to share the story of families in Malawi who worked together to bring clean water to their village.

To help you with your answers, we have used examples from this video throughout this section.

Before we dive into designing your story arc, let’s answer a few questions that will set the tone for your story.

Character & Setting

Tip: It’s important to consider who will tell the story and how their point of view will affect the narrative. Is the narrator part of the story, or external to it? Is he or she watching the story unfold, or looking back on something that has already happened?

Tip: The most effective stories are told from the perspective of an individual. Describe the person and the situation they find themselves in at the beginning of the story.

Tip: Describe other individuals who play meaningful roles in the story.

Now, let’s create your Social Impact Story Map. Answer the following questions to guide your story development.

Status Quo & First Steps

To help you with your answers, we are using charity: water’s video as an example throughout this lesson.

Tip: Recreate the moment when the person realized that something needed to be done. This can help your audience experience the “eye-opening” moment as well. You could think of it as the problem or solution.

Example: The water had always been bad.

Tip: State the doubts or concerns in the voice of the main character: What would he or she say?

Example: “This dirty stream was the only water source we had ever known.”

Example: One day, the villagers heard that a drilling rig could be used to find a new source of water. But a deep ravine stood between their village and the road that the rig would need to travel.

Example: The villagers came together to discuss how to build a road around the ravine.

Obstacles & Allies

Example: It would take months of hard work to build a road; some doubted it could be done.

Tip: Show people involved in creating solutions to their own problems—as well as others who supported the cause.

Example: Families throughout the village contributed materials and labor to work on the road. This allowed the rigs to access their region.

Example: The people of the village and the rig workers joined forces to transport the rig, set it up and drill for water.

Example: When the drilling rig hit water.


Example: The people of the area had access to clean, safe water for drinking, cooking and cleaning.

Tip: Think of a specific lesson that the audience can take away from your story—and a specific action they can take to help the cause.

Example: charity: water included a strong call to action: “You can help us bring clean water to communities like this.”

Tip: Your story has inspired and informed people—what can they do to help?

Let's keep working on it!

A compelling story arc will help motivate your audiences to take action.

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Great job!

You've sketched a story arc that will inspire and motivate your audiences. You could consider learning how to successfully take your story to your audiences next.

Next up: Engagement