Storytelling for Nonprofits: Whose Story? How?

“Using narrative to communicate shared values of your organization to clients, donors, and volunteers.”

Storytelling is most often referred to as  a marketing tool, which has the unfortunate effect of making it sound like an inauthentic sales tactic. For nonprofits, storytelling can wade uncomfortably close to exploitation of the sad stories with the organization cast as “savior.” But, storytelling can do much more. 

In June, YNPN Triangle NC hosted a Storytelling workshop with Ken Branson from MasterMIND Productions. It was so much more than a “how-to.” Attendees asked some really powerful questions such as:

How can we use storytelling to overcome mass media narratives that remove the nuance and humanity of an event, person, or group? We worry about storytelling becoming exploitative. How can we avoid that? How do we use success stories to drive fundraising and volunteerism, instead of always highlighting the lack of or need for something?

Great questions, right? This post explores some of the different types of storytelling that can be used to achieve your goals. 

Whose Stories? 

Sometimes we can get stuck thinking we should always tell stories from one point of view. For example, the story of a client now receiving housing aid, or a family who just adopted a shelter pup. But, pulling in narratives from all angles will increase your chances that a story will resonate with a new group or person more often. Here are four angles to work from: 

  1. The Origin Story - The founder’s why. These can be profound stories full of “ah ha” moments and inflection points that we all experience in life. 
  2. Your Story - Yes, you. Why are you at this organization? What inspires you? 
  3. Client Stories- Focus on successes and impact stories. DO engage in a real conversation with them as you build the story. DON’T assume and tell the story without their input. 
  4. Members, Donors, Volunteer Stories - Why are they part of the organization? What inspired them to get involved?  

Where and How to Tell Stories?

Storytelling does not need to be in long format. You can use long form writing for annual reports, newsletters, and blogs. But, you need a way to connect daily in a time when the average attention span is measured in seconds. Explore these ways to tell short-form stories on social media channels, postcards, mailings, etc. 

  • Use your stats to tell a story with data and a powerful quote to tie it back to a real person. 
  • Challenge yourself to tell an 6-word story on Twitter. Yes, it is possible. 
  • Use a series of posts to build a timeline of your organization’s history. Example: “On this day in 1992, we served our first meal.”

You can also take inspiration from these awesome concepts. Make it interactive with crowdsourced captions on your IG posts. Participate in reoccuring hashtag days such as #TBT, #WCW, or #MondayMotivation. The idea is to think creatively about the different platforms available and adapting stories to fit that platform. 

Maybe your organization is just starting to think about how to use storytelling as an outreach tool. Or, maybe you’re in a bit of storytelling rut. Hopefully this gets the ideas flowing! 

Happy storytelling!

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  • Arlene Brown
    commented 2019-08-05 21:53:25 -0400
    This is a great article with some very easy to apply concepts. So glad we had a successful event with lots of great take aways!