Nonprofits: How to (Really) Harness the Power of Storytelling! (Part 1)

Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve dedicated a few posts to marketing trends and strategies for nonprofits. We’ve talked quite a bit about how important it is for nonprofits (and any type of company, for that matter!) to tell great stories. Most of us already know that excellent marketing boils down to simply telling great stories, but why and how we should tell these stories is a little more ambiguous. We’re going to spend some time diving in to some practical steps your nonprofit can take to establish a culture of excellent storytelling.

Why do we make such a big deal about storytelling? Short answer: telling amazing stories is the best way to inspire, engage, and connect with your audience on an emotional level. Humans are hard-wired to respond to stories! We’re more likely to process and remember information when we hear it in story form. This is why stories about individuals are so much more moving than even the most shocking statistics. People have a tendency to offer their resources to help an identifiable, specific person (or “victim”), and they are a lot less likely to help a larger group of faceless people–this is knows as the “identifiable victim effect.” Putting a face on your data through storytelling is extremely powerful.

Types of Stories Your Nonprofit Should Tell

You know it’s important to tell great stories, but what kinds of stories should your nonprofit be telling? Here are four important types of stories your organization should focus on collecting and sharing:

  • The story of your origin. Tell the story of the original vision that launched your cause. Talk about how and where your organization started, even if your beginnings were rather humble. Describe the passion that compelled your founder(s) to act. Tell the story of who you are as an organization.
  • Stories of overcoming. Tell stories about obstacles your organization has overcome. Tell stories about obstacles the people you serve have overcome. Tell stories about how lives have been changed through your efforts. Your supporters need to hear about how their time and resources are making a difference in the world; they want to feel like they are a part of something much bigger than themselves.
  • Stories of problem solving. Talk about the problems your organization is going through now–the challenges you are currently facing and how you are dealing with them. Tell stories about how your organization has partnered with other charities or organizations to solve problems in your community. Showcase the creative ways your nonprofit is meeting basic needs through problem solving.
  • Stories about where you are headed. Use stories to share your vision for the people and communities you serve. Paint a picture of what life will look in your community after 5, 10, or 20 years of your organization’s direct impact. Use stories to get your supporters excited about where your organization is headed, and show them the tangible difference they can make through giving!

Before You Begin Writing

Once you’ve got an idea of the type of story you want to tell, it’s important to define your message, identify your audience, and find a source(s) for your story. Establishing these elements before you begin will help guide you through the writing process, so take the time to work through them before you start writing out your story.

  • Define your message. For each story you craft, you need to clarify the main message you want to convey. Are you writing to raise awareness? Are you writing to ask for help, volunteers, or funding? Define your ultimate purpose and your story will become much easier to write.
  • Identify your audience. Make a short list of the characteristics of your audience before you begin writing. This list will guide you as you select the details and the tone you set for your story. Keep in mind that your audience may not be the same for every piece you write!
  • Find your sources. If you are telling a story about someone whose life has been impacted by your nonprofit, give them a call or bring them in for an “interview.” It may be a good idea to prepare questions ahead of time in order to keep the conversation flowing. Spread the word throughout your employees and volunteers that you are looking for story leads, and you will be amazed how many incredible stories you will uncover!

Once you have identified the type of story you want to tell and established your message, audience, and sources, it’s time to put your pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and start writing! Still feeling a bit overwhelmed? Stay tuned–in part 2 we’ll walk you through the process of writing out your story.

Want some concrete tips and a simple-to-use outline for writing stories? Download our free Story Map and get a simple step-by-step formula to tell your stories.

The Story Map: Click Here!