5 Tips to Mastering Storytelling for your Nonprofit
Every person has their own unique story and we are storytellers by nature. As human beings, we thrive on hearing other people’s stories and sharing our journey as well. Similarly, storytelling is an integral part of any nonprofit organization that aims to connect with its audience.
In this article you will learn the art of mastering storytelling for your nonprofit, so let’s get started!
- What is Nonprofit Storytelling?
- Why Develop Your Nonprofit Storytelling?
- The 4 Types of Storytelling
- Tip #1: Mobilize Your Team to Find Stories
- Tip #2: Use Characters to Tell Your Story
- Tip #3: Have a Beginning, a Middle, and an End
- Tip #4: Never Fabricate story
- Tip #5: Don’t Forget to Add a Call-to-Action (CTA)
What is Nonprofit Storytelling?
The basic, but formal, definition of storytelling is a social and cultural activity of sharing stories as a means of entertainment, education, preservation of culture, or instilling moral values. Our simplified version is to use stories to emit emotions. Some of the most effective marketing is founded on great storytelling. To show you what we mean, let’s learn from some of the great storytellers out there:
Bill Gates and Paul Allen’s Garage
In their garage, Bill Gates and Paul Allen were able to hone their programming skills, which led to the development of Microsoft. This garage saw Microsoft being built and is instrumental in making it a multi-billion dollar company. This exemplifies the company’s humble beginnings and exemplifies the idea of the self-made entrepreneur, which is very in line with the American narrative.
This is probably one of the most iconic symbols of all time, which is a concrete illustration of a complex theory. Legend has it that in the 17th century, Isaac Newton was sitting under an apple tree and was hit in the head by an apple falling from the tree. This led to a "Eureka" moment and prompted him to come up with the law of gravity.
Tristan is looking forward to honing his storytelling skills!
A large portion of storytelling is to engage your audience, hold their attention and embed the story in their memories. The technique allows for dissemination of information. Stories are also a way that people can relate to your nonprofit because your story evokes emotions in them and prompts them to take action.
Why Develop Your Nonprofit Storytelling?
Developing your nonprofit’s storytelling capabilities is beneficial for many reasons, it is effective at:
Encouraging people to act
Improving your brand
Connecting you to your audience through emotional content that your supporters can identify with
Serving as inspiration to donors, volunteers, and communities
Building a community around your missions
Illustrating problems and accompanying solutions
Once you have developed your own nonprofit story, you can incorporate it with all types of communication and marketing channels including articles, nonprofit blogs, advertising, and emails.
The 4 Types of Storytelling
The hardest part of curating your own story is to put it into a flow and context that is easy to understand. Do not be restricted by using only words, you can also incorporate photos and visuals. Use all the resources that are available to you to tell a compelling nonprofit story. To help you out with your journey, here are 4 examples of nonprofit storytelling that you can use:
This is the story that comes from you as a founder because this is your story. You can tell the story of what happened in your personal life that led you to create a nonprofit. This type of storytelling is impactful because it is very personal and comes from the heart.
Check out My Founder Story for some examples of impactful founder stories for numerous women-owned organizations and businesses.
Pro Tip: My Founder Story also offers micro grants!
In this type of storytelling, you can identify one person who has benefited from your nonprofit and tell the story of how this person’s journey became better after your nonprofit got involved.
Individual-impact stories are important because they can lead people to relate to this story and increase engagement. This type of story highlights the beneficiary and how their lives are impacted.
This is the type of nonprofit storytelling used by Habitat for Humanity wherein they highlight a family, like Dina and her girls, that they are building a house for. Seeing a family with two young kids helps the reader understand the real-world impact of their volunteerism and support.
This is a common type of nonprofit storytelling but it is one of the most effective. The impact can be measured with the help of donations which is relatable to a lot of people who want to quantify their actions and the impact that they are providing to those in need.
Habitat for Humanity does this with ease. Similar to the stories we mentioned above, the organization utilizes experiences, like that of Dale Larson, to show how volunteerism can impact the volunteers and donors as much as the recipients of their generosity. Larson was so moved that his company, Larson Manufacturing, went on to donate products to further support Habitat Greater Sioux Falls. The impact of donor stories may be greater donations and volunteerism for your organization but can also show those donors what they can gain through their experience.
Volunteers are the backbone of the nonprofit sector because they put in all the work needed to make a difference. Volunteer stories can highlight one volunteer’s day-to-day activities and interact with the nonprofit’s beneficiaries. Since they are the ones who are doing the work, volunteers can share a lot of insights into what is going on behind the scenes.
Consider Dean Traore who began volunteering at the Food Bank of South Jersey at the age of six. Over 11 years, Dean learned invaluable skills through his service. He credits his time at the food bank for not only teaching him stellar time management skills, but also the importance of respecting people regardless of their social, educational, or economic background.
Pro Tip: If you find yourself passionate about nonprofit storytelling, there are many nonprofit storytelling conferences taking place all year long in person or online. This is a great opportunity to develop your skills among professionals!
Tip #1: Mobilize Your Team to Find Stories
You have to take an all-inclusive approach when it comes to creating your nonprofit story. Sometimes the best stories come from inside. All people involved, from volunteers, donors, to those who are benefiting from your nonprofit, should be empowered to share their stories. Sometimes a great story comes from where you least expect it.
Salma is ready to mobilize!
Consider sending out a dedicated email to all volunteers and beneficiaries asking them to share their stories.
Tip #2: Use Characters to Tell Your Story
If you think about any story that you have come across, whether it is in books, movies, or news articles, there is always the main character that the story revolves around. Audiences tend to connect with one person rather than a whole group of characters. When the main character is likable and relatable, you captivate your audience and have them rooting for success.
This is an essential part of storytelling. The main character’s purpose is to have a key role that your audience can relate to and in turn connect your story to your audience.
Tip #3: Have a Beginning, a Middle, and an End
It is important to make your story easy to understand by everybody. This seems like an obvious tip but not everybody is a natural storyteller (trust me, many of us writers have gone through extensive schooling to learn how to do this correctly). A good story should follow the structure of a beginning, middle, and end. Here are the different components that can go along in each part:
Set up the pretense that the main character faces a set of circumstances that he needs to overcome or a desire or goal that needs to be attained. It is best to keep this section fairly short so as to not exhaust your reader.
This is the meat of the story, which tells how the main character faces challenges and adversities while pursuing their goal. This part should also highlight the different actions and emotions that the main character felt when faced with the issue.
This is the closing section of the story which explains how the character’s life and the situation were changed in some way. This should have a tie-in with the beginning and a resolution to the problem that the main character was facing.
Tip #4: Never Fabricate a Story
Nonprofit storytelling should never be a made-up story or a figment of your imagination. Using fabricated stories and lying is frowned upon. Not only is it unnecessary because there are so many awesome true stories out there, someone always finds out the truth. You should focus on real ethical storytelling to put the spotlight on your nonprofit. Someone will connect to each well-told story that you have.
Tip #5: Don’t Forget to Add a Call-To-Action (CTA)
There are a lot of great stories out there that have all the key elements and parts but are missing the Call to Action (CTA). Nonprofit CTAs come in various forms but share a common purpose, asking the reader to take action.
Even if you have a compelling story and utilize SEO for nonprofits to pull in hoards of viewers, it is less impactful if you do not have a CTA. CTAs can be signing up for a membership, fundraising, donating time or money, registering to volunteer, or signing a petition.
Oliver is ready to start telling his nonprofit story!
For example, if your story focuses on a volunteer’s experience working with your nonprofit, include a CTA after the story that states "Are you ready to change your life?" (or something similar), with a text box to include their contact details, is important to capitalize on the emotional impact of your story.
In creating your CTA, you have to make sure that it is clear, visible, and unique. Ultimately, a CTA should lead the reader to take an action like donating, signing a petition or sharing the story on social media and should encourage them to take that action now.
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