Storytelling for Non-profits

There’s nothing like a good story to ignite imagination, invoke emotion and incite action in people. Ancient storytellers have used the power of narratives to successfully relay information from one generation to another. Modern-day storytellers–like journalists, writers, and marketers–weave magnificent tales that bring their worlds into ours through newspapers, books, films and television commercials.

Stories are an effective way to connect with people. When you tell a story that will move people, warm their hearts or capture their attention, they can’t wait to pass it on to others. You put the world’s oldest form of viral marketing on your side AND you stimulate some kind of response – whether it is action or reaction.

Non-profit organizations can take a page or two from storytellers when trying to get their messages out. Here are a few points to ponder when building a story:

Consider your audience

Defining your audience determines the language and tone that you use throughout your story. What is the general age-range of the people you are writing for? What is their education level? How much do they know about your organization?

If you are telling your story to an audience that knows nothing about your organization, then going into a little more background detail is important. On the flip side, if you are writing to stakeholders, then perhaps you can get more directly to the point.

Emotional Response vs. Intellectual Response.

Decide what response you want from your audience.

Facts and numbers make your story more credible and relevant and are likely to elicit an intellectual response. You can talk about the number of people your organization has helped out or how many community programs you have successfully implemented – these kinds of information appeal to peoples’ intellects.

Stories about people, on the other hand, are more relatable on an emotional level. Stories about actual people you have impacted and how you have offered solutions to real life problems and situations — these can stir up feelings and appeal to peoples’ emotions.

Format

We live in an era where storytelling is no longer limited to oral discourses, cave etchings and the good old pen and paper; they come in every form imaginable. Social media, infographics, video, podcasts, websites – these are all vehicles for our stories. Decide on the best way to convey your message.  Sometimes it is better to tell your story with audio and visual aids in a podcast or video. If you are dealing with a lot of numbers, consider telling it with an infographic, a visual representation of your story. Check out PiktoChart or visual.ly for options. In this case, the medium is the message.

Order

Journalists and public relations professionals follow a general rule known as the inverted pyramid. The general idea of this way of ordering a story is the assumption that most people won’t read the entire piece, so you try to get the most pertinent information up top to pique their interest.

Basically, you put the most ‘newsworthy’ information at the beginning of the story: who, what, where, when, why. The background information follows it up to support the story. This works really well for press-releases and stories that you are trying to make an intellectual impact with. However, if you are trying to tug at peoples’ heartstrings, then taking your time to set the scene at the beginning and build your story up to climax is more important.

Clarity 

Once you decide on a story idea to develop, be sure to deliver your message clearly. It is tempting to overload a story with witty anecdotes and clever quotations that have very little to do with your story, but a clear focus will keep you on track and help you avoid falling into that trap. A story with a clear and focused flow of ideas will have a more powerful impact than a cluttered, incoherent piece.

Grammar & Punctuation

This is a no-brainer, but good grammar is key to effectively getting your message across clearly in any written story. Small nuances in grammar and punctuation can change the context of a sentence. Edit and proofread your story to ensure proper sentence construction and spelling. A good tip when editing is to read your work aloud.

Passion

One of the best ways to measure if you are on the right path in choosing a story is if you are passionate about it. Does it strike a chord with you? Did it pique your own interest? Then, it is probably a story that is begging to be shared. If you are passionate about the story you are telling, it translates well on whatever medium you choose to tell it.

Telling your organization’s story in a meaningful way can get your message across more effectively and bring much needed attention to your cause.

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