Storytelling has always been a powerful way to engage people and inspire them to take action. Whether it’s a captivating bedtime story, a riveting movie, or a motivational TED Talk, stories have the ability to capture our attention and stir our emotions. It’s no surprise then, that nonprofit organizations use storytelling as a tool to connect with their audience, whether it’s to raise awareness, educate the public, or encourage donations.
The Yeeboo team has invested time and resources into understanding the intersection of compelling copy, brand awareness and successful email campaigns for our nonprofit clients for over a decade. But we looked to seasoned nonprofit storytellers Charlotte Field (GoodWorks) and Kirk Schmidt (Alberta Cancer Foundation) in a LinkedIn Live to get a comprehensive dive into the world of nonprofit storytelling and how learning this essential skill can influence how your nonprofit connects with donors.
In highlights from our chat this article will explore why storytelling works so well for nonprofits and how it can help them achieve their goals. We’ll also discuss the challenges that come with nonprofit storytelling, such as resource constraints, donor fatigue, and the need to balance authenticity with compelling storytelling. But fear not, we’ll also provide practical strategies to help your nonprofit overcome these challenges and create stories that engage, inspire, and move your audience to action.
So, whether you’re a seasoned nonprofit storyteller or just getting started, we invite you to join us on this journey to discover the power of storytelling for nonprofits.
Why Stories Work So Well for Every Cause
Human beings are natural storytellers. From the earliest days of humanity, stories have been an integral part of our existence, shaping our cultures and societies. They tap into our emotions, enabling us to establish meaningful connections with others and comprehend the world’s complexities. Research has even shown that stories are remarkably powerful memory aids, with people being 12 times more likely to retain information shared through storytelling compared to mere facts and figures.
“from the earliest age, that (stories) is how we learn, how we connect.” Kirk Schmidt, Storyteller and Data Expert at Alberta Cancer Foundation
For nonprofit organizations, harnessing the art of storytelling can be a game-changer in engaging their audience and rallying support for their cause. A study conducted by Classy, a prominent fundraising and donor management platform, social media posts with compelling stories generate up to 10 times more engagement than posts without stories.
By weaving compelling narratives that tug at heartstrings, nonprofits can forge emotional connections with potential supporters, making them more inclined to empathize and take action. Personal stories of those impacted by the organization’s work can be particularly potent, humanizing the cause and giving it a relatable face. Furthermore, stories can effectively communicate complex issues in a digestible manner, making the cause more approachable to a broader audience.
“The truth is, we can’t ignore pain and trauma in our stories. But we do have choices in how we craft them. We can lean on painful circumstances to capture our audience’s attention or on the extraordinary power of transformation, awe, and hope.” Maria Bryan, Trauma-informed storyteller at Maria Bryan Creative
Storytelling doesn’t only serve as a tool for fundraising; it can also help build a loyal community of supporters who become advocates for the organization’s mission. When people are emotionally invested in a story, they are more likely to share it with others, amplifying the message and expanding the nonprofit’s reach.
Here are some reasons why stories work so well for nonprofits:
- Stories are memorable: People are more likely to remember a story than a list of facts or statistics. A well-told story can stick with someone for a long time and make a lasting impact.
- Stories create empathy: By sharing stories, nonprofits can create empathy and help people understand the experiences of others. This emotional connection can lead to greater support for the cause.
- Stories inspire action: When people are moved by a story, they are more likely to take action. Whether it’s making a donation, volunteering, or sharing the story with others, stories can motivate people to do something to support the cause.
What Can Make Storytelling Difficult for a Nonprofit?
So we know storytelling is a critical part now of reaching your donors and potential donors. When a nonprofit presents a compelling story, it has the remarkable ability to do more than just relay information; it stirs emotions, evokes empathy, and leaves a lasting impression of the organization’s mission.
With such evident benefits, one might wonder why all nonprofits aren’t consistently churning out engaging stories to advance their cause. The answer lies in the complexities and challenges inherent in storytelling. And nonprofits face unique challenges when it comes to crafting effective stories. Here are some of the most common challenges:
- Lack of resources: Nonprofits often have limited budgets and staff, which can make it difficult to produce high-quality stories. Without the resources to hire professional videographers or writers, nonprofits may struggle to create compelling content.
- Overcoming donor fatigue: Many nonprofits focus on the same issues, which can lead to donor fatigue. Donors may become desensitized to the messages they receive, which can make it difficult for a nonprofit to break through the noise and capture their attention.
- Maintaining authenticity: Nonprofits need to be authentic in their storytelling. If a story seems contrived or insincere, it can turn off potential supporters. However, balancing authenticity with the need to create a compelling story can be challenging.
“It’s easy to forget as the writer or creator of the story that you bring so much contextual knowledge that your reader doesn’t have, doesn’t share. They don’t spend every day thinking about this like you do.” Charlotte Field, Partner and Storyteller, GoodWorks
Nonprofit professionals may hesitate to embrace storytelling due to a lack of storytelling expertise or uncertainty about where to begin. Crafting a compelling story involves understanding the audience, identifying the core message, and shaping the narrative in a way that captivates and inspires action. Some organizations may worry that their stories might not have the same emotional punch as those from larger, more visible nonprofits, causing hesitation in sharing their experiences.
Storytelling for a nonprofit can be a formidable challenge, but one that holds tremendous potential for impact. Balancing emotional appeal with factual accuracy, grappling with limited resources, and navigating diverse audience preferences are all hurdles to overcome for a nonprofit marketing/communications/fundraising team.
However, by embracing authenticity, honing the narrative, and leveraging social proof tools like Proofpact that also serves as multimedia platforms, nonprofits can powerfully convey their mission and foster lasting connections with their supporters. Remember, the path to compelling storytelling may feel like an uphill battle, but the rewards for those who persevere are significant. Nonprofit Source recently found that nonprofits that effectively use storytelling in their fundraising efforts have a donor retention rate of 45%, compared to 27% for organizations that do not focus on storytelling.
“Nonprofits that mix storytelling with social proof create a sense of inclusivity and inherently create a dialogue with their community. This fuels lasting connections and creates authentic content that can be used to engage others which creates a groundswell of positivity around the nonprofit.” David Norris, Social Proof Expert at Proofpact
How Do We Begin to Get Around the “Hard Parts” of Nonprofit Storytelling?
Navigating the complexities of nonprofit storytelling requires a thoughtful approach that blends authenticity, creativity, and collaboration. As human beings we are wired to respond to stories, crafting compelling narratives can establish an emotional connection with the audience, inspiring action and support.
Overcoming resource constraints demands innovation, while data-driven storytelling adds credibility and reinforces the organization’s impact. By staying true to their mission and continuously refining their approach, nonprofits can transcend the challenges and harness the power of storytelling to create lasting change.
“ Orgs often fall short in removing all the components of the stories that support their narrative. There is often a skew towards minimizing the problem.” Charlotte Kirk,Charlotte Field, Partner and Storyteller, GoodWorks
Here are several strategies that nonprofits can use to overcome the “hard parts” of storytelling:
- Start with the mission: Every nonprofit has a mission, and that mission should be at the heart of your storytelling. Make sure that your stories align with your mission and that they demonstrate the impact that your organization is making.
- Focus on the people: Nonprofits are ultimately about people, whether it’s the people who are impacted by the cause or the people who support the organization. Focus on telling stories about the people who are involved with the cause, and make sure that their stories are authentic and compelling.
- Use multimedia: Nonprofits don’t have to rely solely on written stories. Using multimedia, such as photos, videos, and infographics, can help to bring stories to life and engage people in new ways.
- Collaborate with partners: Nonprofits can collaborate with other organizations or individuals to create more impactful stories. For example, partnering with a local artist or musician can add a unique perspective to a story and help to capture people’s attention.
- Measure your impact: Nonprofits should track the impact of their storytelling efforts. Use analytics to measure engagement and feedback, and adjust your approach as needed.
“It’s ok to slow down the story-gathering process to allow for ethical and trauma-informed stories. It may take some changes in your storytelling workflow, but we can safely tell painful stories in a way that has a great impact. ” Maria Bryan, Trauma-informed storyteller at Maria Bryan Creative.
Successfully getting around the challenges of nonprofit storytelling requires a comprehensive approach that emphasizes authenticity, creativity, collaboration, data, and continuous improvement. By embracing these elements and crafting compelling narratives that genuinely connect with their audience, nonprofits can overcome the “hard parts” and inspire meaningful engagement and support for their important work.
The power of storytelling for nonprofits is undeniable, as it allows organizations to connect deeply with their audience, evoke empathy, and drive support for their causes. Stories work exceptionally well for every cause, transcending cultural and societal boundaries, and providing a universal language that resonates with people from all walks of life.
However, despite the inherent effectiveness of storytelling, nonprofits often face challenges in crafting impactful narratives. Maintaining authenticity can be difficult, as there may be pressure to oversimplify or exaggerate stories to evoke emotional responses. Additionally, limited resources and funding constraints can hinder the production and distribution of compelling storytelling content.
To overcome these hurdles, nonprofits must embrace innovative approaches and collaborate with diverse stakeholders to amplify their storytelling efforts. Leveraging digital platforms, data analytics, and multimedia can help nonprofits reach wider audiences and measure the impact of their narratives more effectively.
“Stories allow us to make sense of the world. The best stories do these 3 things: they relate (make the reader feel something), they educate (by adding value), and they inspire (the reader into action). The best stories are authentic. They engage your reader and make the important interesting.” Natalie Munroe, Community Engagement, Memory Fox
In the future, nonprofit storytelling is poised to evolve with advances in technology and changing audience preferences. As technology continues to shape how stories are shared and consumed, nonprofits will need to adapt and leverage new tools and mediums to stay relevant and impactful. The emphasis on transparency and authenticity will remain pivotal, ensuring that stories genuinely reflect the realities of those affected by the organization’s work.
Ultimately, the future of nonprofit storytelling holds great promise. By harnessing the power of storytelling and navigating its challenges, nonprofits can forge lasting connections with their audience, mobilize support, and drive positive change on a global scale. As the world continues to grapple with complex issues, the transformative force of storytelling will continue to be a driving force for nonprofits in their pursuit of a better, more compassionate world.