What the Food Network Show “Chopped” Can Teach Nonprofits About Storytelling

What the Food Network Show “Chopped” Can Teach Nonprofits About Storytelling

In the Food Network show Chopped, just before chefs present their first dish to the judges, they must answer the question, “What would it mean for you to win?” 

In the Food Network show Chopped, chefs compete to cook the best dish based on a basket of mystery ingredients. Just before contestants present their first dish to the judges, they must answer the question: What would it mean for you to win?

The winner gets $10,000, but winning Chopped means so much more than money. This is the story element of the show. Each chef is playing for something personal to them. Some play in hopes of winning seed money for a new venture. Some play to prove something to themselves, to family, or even to an entire culture. Some want to pay a sibling’s medical bills, take a long-delayed honeymoon, or travel to see a special family member. And so, the drama of the show is not only about whether these chefs can make something amazing from a basket of random ingredients. It’s about hopes and dreams, family quarrels, breaking barriers.

Define the “win” to motivate donors.

We could learn a lot from these Chopped contestants. We are more than what we do, more than the methods we use, or the ingredients we’re delt. The missing piece in some of our stories is this “what does it mean?” element. There is much to gain, and much to lose in your mission. When you share about your mission, show us what is at stake.

  • What does it mean to win? If you’re funded and the mission succeeds?
  • Conversely, what happens if your mission is not funded? 

In an early episode of Chopped, one contestant’s goal was to travel to see her grandmother in another country. It would be her last chance see this special woman. In the end, this contestant lost the cooking competition, but the winning chef was so moved by her story that he paid for her ticket.

When you make the stakes clear and define the “win” for donors, they are more likely to be feel motivated for your cause. Your wins are their wins. It feels good! A project with nothing at stake doesn’t move people to act. Obviously, we don’t want to exaggerate, but we do need to make stakes clear. Don’t assume people will automatically connect the dots between your project and the real impact it has. It’s up to us to help donors make those connections.

That childcare center you’re funding? I doesn’t just mean moms get a break. It means they can work without worrying about their children. That they can say, “Yes” to new opportunities. It means children are more prepared for school and more likely to break cycles of poverty. What happens if childcare isn’t available? What doors remain shut for these families then?

It’s up to us as storytellers to clearly show what happens when we win–and when we lose.

Every Story is About Change

Every Story is About Change

Every story needs change, regardless of the story’s focus. By recognizing this and emphasizing it, you can engage and connect with your donors more effectively.

As nonprofit leaders, we’re dedicated to making a difference and changing lives through our work. But when it comes to sharing about that work with donors, we tend to focus on reporting on our activities and achievements rather than emphasizing the actual impact and transformation taking place.

The transformation story is a key part of an effective fundraising strategy. That’s the familiar before and after story. But all of our stories need to show change.

Change is essential for a story.

Every story is fundamentally about change, and any story without change falls flat.

A story without change is a like a wall without bricks. Change isn’t just a part of story, it’s what story is made of. 

–Damien Walter

Change always has an emotional element. The two go hand in hand; that makes them a great duo for your storytelling repertoire. Knowing where to look for change and how to show that change in your storytelling can unlock a treasure trove of stories for your cause. 

Donors want to see the real difference their contributions are making. Reporting back to donors with numbers and reports of what you did is good. But it’s not a story if nothing changes. Which of these feels more like a story your donors would appreciate?

a) We delivered 50 pallets of water to families after the storm.

b) Thanks to you, 600 families have fresh water after flooding contaminated the local water supply.*

The first sentence says what you did. The second shows the change (and gives donors the credit).

Change can occur in various forms, and it isn’t limited to the person you’re writing about. The main character (the person you’re focusing on), undergoes the most significant change. But other characters, and the world around them, may also experience transformation. 

Many things may change at once. Sometimes, we’re so focused on the big change we’re hoping for that we miss other changes taking place.

It’s easy to overlook some changes.

Small or incremental changes. Not all changes are grand or dramatic. Even small decisions, especially over time, can bring real change. Think about some small action you take every day. What would happen if you stopped that habit? And what happens when you start a new habit? The changes we need to start a new habit are often small, but they have a tremendous impact. 

Internal changes. Changes in the way we think, attitude changes, or shifts in approach are often the seed for bigger transformations. The only way to know how a person experienced an event, how they feel, or what their thought processes were, is to talk with them and ask. Hone your interviewing skills and be willing to spend the time to get these types of stories.

Changes sparked by challenges, interruptions, or failure. As nonprofit leaders, we do hard things. Not everything will go according to plan. Don’t shy away from these stories. Donors tend to respond well to stories that show how organizations adapt and grow, so let them in on these “behind the scenes” stories.

Consider different types of change and the steps that lead to significant transformations. Highlight the implications of the change and the potential it holds for the future. Consider what the world would be like if the change doesn’t take place.

When you write, ask yourself:

What changed? Or, where is the change?

What could change?

What needs to change? (and what’s the consequence if it doesn’t)

Build stories with change and help donors see the difference they make when they give.

What Formula One Can Teach Nonprofits About Storytelling

What Formula One Can Teach Nonprofits About Storytelling

Sports can teach us a lot about nonprofit storytelling. In this episode, we’re looking at two examples of sports using storytelling to reach people and to teach people – two things all nonprofits need to do. Formula One uses storytelling to fuel explosive growth into new markets, and we’ll also look at how ESPN uses sports to shine a light on issues of life and death.

As a missionary, as a ministry or nonprofit leader, you are doing important work, but a lot of that work just doesn’t seem to catch on with the people you’re trying to reach. Sports can have a similar problem. There is always inherent drama in a good sports matchup, but not everybody is into the game itself. 

Who are these people? What in the world are they doing? And why? Why would I watch something I don’t understand?

Formula 1 racing used to be a sport enjoyed almost exclusively by older, well-off European males. Complex rules, complicated courses, and a format that makes it hard to follow all meant the sport was just too difficult for a casual observer to enjoy. But recently, TV viewership for races has exploded, F1 events are selling out, and the stands are filled with new fans. Women are in the crowd–and young people. What happened?


The key driver behind the explosion of F1 racing into new markets is storytelling.

Drive to Survive is a Netflix show about the people behind Formula 1 racing. The show focuses on the characters–drivers and billionaire owners–and gives us an insider’s view. There is very little actual racing. The narrative introduces the sport to us a little at a time.

As these stories unfold, people become more familiar with the sport and its key players. They begin to care about the people involved. They gain a basic understanding of the rules. They can follow along.

Isn’t this what we want for our supporters, too?

ESPN’s 30 for 30: Pink Card tells the story of women in Iran and their love for soccer–and their quest for freedom. The series is about the injustices faced by women in Iran, as illustrated by the struggle of female soccer fans fighting for the right to attend soccer matches at the national stadium.

These sports shows do the same things your stories have to do: provide a gradual, understandable explanation of your mission without sensationalizing or trivializing it, and without alientating long-time supporters. (Okay, these shows might sensationalize…but I hope you won’t.)

Just as people interested in the “characters” who drive F1 race cars can learn about Formula 1 racing by watching stories on Netflix, soccer fans can learn about gender inequality and human rights abuses by listening to four episodes of the 30 for 30 podcast. With stories, outsiders can gain awareness about your cause, understand why your work is important, and how they can get involved.

Storytelling builds bridges.

Storytelling is what takes people who don’t know about your mission and moves them–step by step–into a supporting role.

What story will you tell next?

Monetize Your Book with a Course: Interview with Dr. Lucas Marino

Monetize Your Book with a Course: Interview with Dr. Lucas Marino

If you’ve got a book, you need a course to go with it. Here’s my interview with the man who can help you do that, Dr. Lucas Marino, author of Monetize Your Book with a Course.

When you write a book, you’re making promises to your readers.

This will be worth your time. This will help you solve a problem. This will teach you to…

Even when your book delivers on those promises–even when that transformation is life-changing–you still only make a small portion of that $15 the person paid for your book.

But what if you had a course to go with your book? Well, then your book could show people that you are able to help them. The book becomes the calling card for the course, and you teach the same things for more money. If you’ve ever wondered how to do that, Dr. Lucas Marino’s How to Monetize Your Book with a Course is for you.

Write the book, and you’ve done the hardest part.

You’ve already done the hard work of research, organizing your information, and creating the content in written form. Even though the format of your course is different, the content remains roughly the same. Even better, you can hone it to meet the specific needs of your right fit client.

Once you’ve done the book, a course can be the next logical step for that ideal client. That’s great for you, because the course will naturally cost more than the book. And, once you’ve done the production work, most of the course fees belong to you.

Lucas says one mistake authors make creating a course is they sink too much into production costs before the course is proven. You don’t have to go all out. You can create a course with your smartphone camera, some lights, and a good microphone. If you keep production simple, you’re free to iterate as you find out what works for your clients.

They’re buying an outcome, the potential to reach an outcome. They’re not buying your course, they’re buying that opportunity.

Just like the people who buy your book, the people who buy your course are buying it to get an outcome. They have a problem, and your book (and your course) can help them solve their problem. You don’t have to (and shouldn’t) give them anything they don’t need to solve that problem. That’s another mistake course creators make.

Lucas says, “The worst thing you can do is overwhelm the learner with complexity, and actually make it harder for them to achieve results. Because they’ll leave dissatisfied. They won’t refer your course to people, and they’ll never achieve the outcome that you set to give them.”

Courses don’t all follow the same format.

There are many ways to deliver a course. Lucas says audio is quickly becoming the go-to format for many, because we live such busy lives. “If you have a book and you have a popular audio book, you could create an audio course which has a lot of downloadable, or printable content accompanied by audio files that take them through the whole deal.”

If you don’t want to be on video, you can create an audio-only course or a course that uses animation or slideshows with narration. People learn in different ways, and you can create courses in different ways. Lucas can guide you through the process.

Would you rather watch the video version of this interview?

Monetize, but measure success by your client’s wins.

Of course, you want your course to be profitable. But Lucas says focusing on the money first can actually hurt you. It’s the same with your course as it is with your book–your first job is to serve your clients. Decide what your students need to be able to do after taking your course, and make everything in your course support that transformation.

“Success is people enjoy the course, they consume it, they share it with other people. The financial benefits of that is a byproduct of that experience.”

Hopefully, with your book, you identified your ideal reader. That person now becomes your ideal student. If you’re a coach or a consultant, you have a built-in audience. Your course takes a place in your product pyramid along with your book and your other products and services. Everything, at every level of that pyramid, serves your client. everything is about helping them get that transformation they’re after.

As your students succeed, so will you.


Lucas Marino, D.Eng, PMP, is an author and entrepreneur. He is the founder of Marino Training, EAST Partnership, and co-founder of the Empire Builder’s Masterclass. Lucas helps entrepreneurs and authors launch and sustain online training products. He is a Thinkific Expert, host of the Conversations for Course Creators podcast, and author of MONETIZE YOUR BOOK WITH A COURSE. A military engineer by experience, he spent 21-years as a naval engineer and training manager in the United States Coast Guard.

Marino Training website – www.marinotraining.com

Email – lucas@marinotraining.com

Amazon book link – https://a.co/d/fo1gejk

YouTube – https://www.youtube.com/@marinotraining

LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/lucas-marino-deng

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/marinotraining

Twitter – https://twitter.com/marino_training

More Than Podcasting: Are we missing opportunities?

More Than Podcasting: Are we missing opportunities?

Eric Nevins is the founder of the Christian Podcasters Association. In this interview, we discussed the potential waiting to be unlocked through podcasting and wondered, are we missing opportunities?

In this conversation, we discussed:

  • The reach and influence of podcasts
  • How stories shape character
  • The story behind the Halfway There podcast
  • New media  as a tool for the church
  • Opportunities from the pandemic
  • Thinking about how people consume media.
  • The future of podcasting