The story your nonprofit tells can inspire lifelong partnerships, pull more energy to your cause, and help generate the financial support you need not just to survive but to thrive.
We talked previously about understanding the role of nonprofit storytelling and how it can impact your fundraising. With this post, we’ll go deeper and highlight our top 10 nonprofit storytelling best practices. Consider these a checklist as you build your relationship with your clients, partners, supporters, and staff. And use them to keep your nonprofit’s mission and focus foremost in your mind.
It’s not about you.
We all know people who drone on and on about themselves and never stop to think about the other people in the conversation. Don’t be that guy. With nonprofit storytelling, your message should not be about you but rather about the amazing work your organization is doing in the world. Through your website and media communications, share the passion your nonprofit has for creating change, talk about the boots-on-the-ground work your staff and volunteers are doing, and focus on those you’re helping. Make sure you’re showcasing the passion, not yourself.
Give us someone to root for.
Every story has a main character. While you want your audience to learn about your nonprofit, you’ve got to give your audience someone to care about, to connect with, to root for. In making that emotional connection, you’re making it easier for them to care about helping with and committing to your cause. There’s a universality to our needs and desires: we all want to feel safe, we all want to know where our next meal will come from, we all want to believe our children have potential. Seeing someone we can root for brings those feelings forward and solidifies the connection between your nonprofit’s good work and those it’s helping.
Make it compelling.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did,” award-winning poet and author Maya Angelou once said, “but people will never forget how you made them feel.” And she’s right. When we’re moved emotionally, we’re touched on a deeper level than in our ordinary exchanges. In telling your nonprofit’s story, establish a firm link between the viewer and who they see in the video, and try to reach that audience in a deeper, less superficial way. This can be through text, music, words, or images—or ideally all of these aspects working together.
Keep it simple.
You want to make it easy for your audience to connect the dots between action and impact. Tell your story simply and clearly, and you’ll help supporters and potential supporters better understand what you’re all about. And when the message and story are simple, those viewers can spread the word to their network of friends, expanding your nonprofit’s reach even further.
Sticky stories are the best.
The best stories are the ones we remember. And they aren’t always complicated plots. Try to use a clean, simple image on your website or in your nonprofit’s video. Make the goal of your work clear, the recipient defined, the impact explicitly stated. Your audience will hold onto that story and return to it to take action.
Vary your storytellers.
When you look around your nonprofit, chances are you have limited staff and resources at your disposal. Like most nonprofits, budgets are tight. But storytelling doesn’t have to break the bank. Instead of hiring actors to play parts, consider putting a staff member in front of the camera to walk through a recent project. Film a supporter explaining why she cares about your nonprofit and what motivated her to make a donation. Your marketing department doesn’t have to work its magic alone. Try to tap a variety of volunteers, team members, and donors to take part in your nonprofit’s storytelling.
Bring people together.
Let your staff have a go at creativity, and you might be pleased by the results. Try pairing up someone who works for your nonprofit with someone who volunteers or donates. Give them a microphone and camera, and see what happens. Or sit them down with a notepad and let them talk for an hour. What comes out of organic, one-to-one exchanges can be personal and powerful. And that story can be part of your nonprofit’s message.
Don’t limit the medium.
A clean, easy-to-navigate website is crucial to your nonprofit’s fundraising and donor management. Through photos and text, you can explain what you’re all about in concise and effective language. Email blasts allow you to keep your story current and your audience updated. And videos serve as an effective way to highlight what you do, why you do it, and how your audience can help. Social media platforms let you do precision messaging that reinforces your mission or promotes engagement opportunities like galas and events. Don’t limit yourself to just one means of reaching your audience. Variety will help you reach more potential supporters.
Keep it short and sweet.
Your message should be direct and easy to understand. Take a look at your website and get rid of the clutter. Your audience should be able to get a sense of what you’re about in a matter of seconds, not minutes. In video storytelling, clear the clutter from your messaging too. If you are hoping a video will go viral on social media, shorter clips of just one minute work best on sites like Facebook. If you want to use a platform like YouTube for a longer video, shoot for 10 to 12 minutes at most.
Remember the fundamentals.
A talking head reading from a script into a camera is not a story. Stories have three fundamental parts: a beginning, middle, and ending. When telling your nonprofit’s story, be sure to take your audience through all three. And above all, show them how they can play the crucial role of bringing about a happy ending.