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.

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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.

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