The Importance of Storytelling for Nonprofits

Human beings have evolved to respond to storytelling. Stories are the way humans have communicated and connected for thousands of years. Stories were passed down from generation to generation to bond us to each other, share our history, inspire, educate and impart wisdom.

Think about what you remember from your history class about World War II. You’ve probably forgotten most of the dates, battlegrounds and names of generals, but you likely remember the horror of the Holocaust and the stories of some of the people who fought and survived. You may not be able to quote Bible verses, but you probably remember the story of the Good Samaritan.

The best communicators in history have usually been storytellers. As a nonprofit, you should be tapping into the stories of your volunteers, your clients and your members and using their power to draw people to your mission.

Why are stories so powerful?

Stories make complex issues more relatable.

The forces of industrialization, government regulations and environmental degradation are challenging to fully understand and can feel distant to our everyday lives. On the other hand, the story of a boy born with birth defects caused by toxic pollutants in the water supply from a nearby chemical plant, succinctly illustrates of what an anti-pollution campaign is about and gives a face to your cause, a powerful reason to care.

Stories tap into our emotions.

If you want to build commitment to a cause, you need to create an emotional connection to it. Humans like to believe that they are logical and make decisions based on facts, but in reality, we are ruled very much by our emotions and rarely are drawn to any cause based simply on data and statistics. Draw them in with a great story backed up by compelling facts and you’ve got a winning combination.

Stories create empathy.

A well-told story allows people to step into the shoes of another person and empathize with their position. It allows us to drop some of our biases and see a situation through another person’s eyes. Compelling human-interest stories have a unique power to change minds and open hearts.

Crafting a great nonprofit story

Be clear about your objectives.

Are you trying to promote the overall mission of your organization? Are you trying to raise funds for a specific objective? Are you trying to inspire and motivate your volunteers? Consider what you hope to achieve and determine what type of story would best illustrate and move your target audience.

Focus on an individual or family if you can.

People make emotional connections to individuals much more easily than groups or organizations. Rather than talking about how your donations assisted a women’s shelter, see if you can find one woman who would be willing to be profiled about how she has been personally impacted.

Treat your profile with dignity.

Be careful not to veer into phrasing that implies that you somehow “rescued” the subject of the story. The story should be about them. Quote them in their own words and provide as many details as you can about their life and how they are working to improve their own situation with the assistance of your organization.

Photos of faces are more effective.

Unless your profiled subject doesn’t wish to be photographed, try to always use a photo or photos of people and faces. Posts that include photos with faces perform much better than photos without faces.

Video is even more effective.

Videos obviously take a bit more time to put together than a photo with some text, but they can be highly effective. So when you have a big campaign or presentation, consider taking the extra time to tell some stories using video and showing your work in action.

Base story length on your audience.

For sharing on social media, your story could be as simple as a photo with a caption that reads,

‘When Fatima arrived in the U.S. as a refugee from war-torn Syria last year, she spoke no English and carried nothing but the clothes on her back and her 2-year-old son. Today, she has a job, an apartment and is learning English and computer skills through classes at International House. “I am so grateful to all the people at International House for welcoming and helping me and my son. I have great hopes for him to have a good education and a good life here.” Your donations help make stories like Fatima’s possible.’

For presentations at big member meetings, for corporate sponsors and so on, you’ll want to get more involved and tell more detailed stories. Consider telling several stories about different beneficiaries to highlight the variety of impacts your organization makes.

Back up your stories with data.

After you have drawn in your audience with a story or stories that illustrate what your mission is about and how you are affecting the lives of real people, back it up with facts and figures. Most people do want to see some statistics that quantify your impact and prove that donations and time are being spent effectively.

Provide a vision of the future.

Outline goals that could be achieved with the assistance of your audience. Paint a picture of how many more people could be helped or a new project that could be completed if certain milestones were met. Help your listeners or readers envision the difference they could make with their donation or their involvement.

Follow these tips for great storytelling, and we’re confident that your nonprofit will see the benefits. Contact us at J&M Business Solutions to assist you with creating compelling human-interest stories that will attract members and motivate donors.