In 2020, COVID-19 entered our world. As our communities grappled with the global health crisis, a common theme has been connection – finding it, cherishing it and growing from it.
One of the ways we found connection while being physically separated was through storytelling. Think about some of the stories that you’ve heard in the last year – perhaps one story or image has stuck with you, or maybe another moved you to action.
Why do you think that is?
From the most renowned brands to the “mom-and-pop” shop down the street, everyone understands the power and nostalgia behind a good story. In fact, the term “nonprofit storytelling” has become a bit of a buzzword in the philanthropic space – and for good reason. Stories are powerful; for nonprofits, they are transformative and essential.
Why is storytelling essential for nonprofits?
There are a few common mistakes often used in the generation and production of stories.
Here’s what to avoid:
It’s likely that your organization has hundreds of untold stories; stories that are bursting at the seams to be heard!
Here are three steps to tell those stories to arrive at the happily ever after!
Step 1: Uncover 2-3 great stories.
Spend time looking back and collecting (from your inbox, memories, etc.) a few of your favorite stories. Think of those mission moments that can connect supporters to your cause and your impact. Maybe there are a couple stories that are already in your rotation. These can be the reason you were founded, or a recent transformation that happened to your organization. Or it’s a testimonial from someone you’ve worked with. The possibilities are endless!
Now, you may feel like these stories have already been told too many times. By using the story arc in Step 2 (keep reading), you’ll give those stories new life! Remember: a good story is always worth repeating. You can also find great stories by asking others involved in your organization.
Think board members, staff, volunteers, and even donors. Most importantly, those who have been on the receiving end of your nonprofit will likely have the most impactful stories to share.
“One of the biggest mistakes we see nonprofits make is never telling the stories of their donors. Those stories can be the most effective because your audience begins to see themselves as a part of your organization,” explains Jesse Lane, CEO & Founder of goodmakerU by Branches Mission Lab.
When you start asking around, you may develop an entire library of stories to tell!
Step 2: Map out your story using the classic story arc.
Used in all of our favorite movies, the story arc is our go-to model for great storytelling. With the story arc, you can map out the narrative with building tension that draws people to the edge of their seats.
After setting context and introducing characters, use a series of challenges and crisis events to build tension for your audience.
Finally, bring the story to the climax moment when everything changes for your main character. Finish the story with falling action, or denouement, when things happen quickly and all fall into place.
Think of your most used story within your organization. Does it follow the story arc?
To help you map this out, download a complimentary, fill-in-the-blank template of the Story Arc.
Step 3: Tell (and retell) your stories in creative ways.
The way in which a story is told is almost as important as the content itself. Think outside of the box. Consider repurposing your best stories in multiple formats, including:
Practice your storytelling every chance you get and do so as if no one is watching. You’ll continue to get more natural and effective with the story each time.
You can practice…
Remember that your existing staff, board members, and donors need to hear stories too. We all need stories to remind us of why we do what we do!
Finally, ensure your story is always ethical and empowering. Honor those in your story. Be careful as you craft your story to avoid stretching the truth or misrepresenting someone in the story.
A great litmus test is to ask yourself a few questions:
For more on telling stories ethically, check out ethicalstorytelling.com.
Storytelling is essential for demonstrating impact, connecting with your audience, and inviting people to take action. Yet, so many nonprofits struggle to tell stories effectively.
The free Storytelling Guide can help you, your team, and your board quickly take your storytelling to the next level. But, if you really want to master the art and science of storytelling, check out this online course: The Marketing Anatomy of a Growing Nonprofit.
The course offers video lessons dedicated to developing an effective brand and crafting powerful stories. The lesson will also help you build out the full digital ecosystem required to really grow your reach, build awareness, and increase online fundraising results.
Lane offers, “Don’t forget that storytelling is the most influential tool that you have to move people towards action.”
Use stories to share the impact that your organization has on your community. Be sure to tell them everywhere, in your donor communications, on social media, in your nonprofit event marketing, and especially in your events and virtual fundraisers. Whether they occurred a lifetime ago or yesterday, your stories are waiting to be heard. So, don’t wait to tell them.
And they all lived happily ever after.
CEO & Founder
goodmakerU by Branches Mission Lab
For more information on fundraising best practices and essential strategy for successful fundraising campaigns, be sure to check out these additional resources: