Storytelling is proven time and time again to be one of the most powerful assets in nonprofit communications. That’s why our JR Communications team takes storytelling seriously. In fact, our work with United Way of the National Capital Area was just recognized with an Honorable Mention in the Storytelling Campaign category at the 2022 PR Daily Awards.
Read more to find out why storytelling is such an asset and how to leverage storytelling to advance your goals.
Why tell stories in your nonprofit communications?
A good story grabs people’s attention and — if told effectively — won’t let go until it’s made an impression. That impression is the result of an emotional response, called pathos, which has the power to prompt certain behaviors, opinions, and decisions. Such an emotional response is not as easy to get from straightforward data or policy information.
People want a story about an interesting person who faced and overcame a challenge. We know that’s what we respond to most, what we are most likely to share with others. Whitepapers and data points have their place, to be sure. But that’s not what most people are going to connect with as much as they’ll connect to a compelling story.
Telling stories about the people whose lives have been affected by your nonprofit organization lets you:
- Add humanity to the organization’s work. A story gives a face to what your organization does, creating a stronger connection for your audience by showing how a real person is affected.
- Remove complexity from a challenging issue. The challenge that person faced impacted them in concrete ways that your audience can understand.
- Cut out jargon. Your nonprofit’s impact can be described in relation to a real person, rather than in long-term strategies or policy proposals.
- Stand out from the crowd. In this competitive world, your nonprofit may be just one of several working on a related cause. The right story can help you stand out by forming a stronger connection with your target audience.
How do you craft effective nonprofit stories?
To tell an effective story for your nonprofit, you need to first find one. Most nonprofits turn to stories about people and communities that their organizations have helped. But an organization’s own staff or volunteers may have good stories to tell. Why does the organization’s work matter to them?
Once you’ve identified a story, it needs to be shaped into a compelling narrative. Just like your favorite Disney movies, novels, and campfire stories, your nonprofit’s stories must do the following:
- Introduce the primary person the story is about.
- Identify the challenge(s) they faced.
- Show how they overcame this challenge.
For a nonprofit’s story, though, it must also include how the nonprofit’s efforts helped this person along the way. What value did the nonprofit provide? Give real examples. By doing this, your audience — donors, volunteers, community members — form a connection by understanding how they, as part of the nonprofit’s work, are part of the narrative.
How can you use stories to accomplish your organization’s goals?
It’s clear that an effective nonprofit story captures the audience’s attention and helps them understand how the nonprofit’s work makes a real impact. But what do you do with that story once you have it?
Let’s go back to the emotional response we discussed earlier. It has the ability to persuade people to do something, whether that’s take an action or consider another perspective. What result does your nonprofit want when it tells the story? The way the story is framed should reflect this goal.
Likewise, your organization’s messages should be reinforced through your stories. By integrating messaging into stories, we’re able to get key messages delivered successfully.
When we work with our clients at JR Communications, we help them create storybanks to collect these stories and identify how and where they can be used most effectively. Plus, we find success stories that we weave through our nonprofit clients’ op-eds, speeches, and other content.
The uses for a good story in your communications strategy are endless: it can be used in media pitches, social media posts, promotional brochures, email newsletters, and presentations (to name just a few). Leveraging these stories allows our nonprofit clients to continue doing their important work to improve their communities.
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