I’m sure it comes as no surprise to you that one of your most powerful marketing tools is a great story. You can pack a lot of punch in a well-told story about how your organization has served your community, helped someone in need or otherwise made a significant impact. Nonprofit stories can inspire, educate and motivate people to support your cause—if they’re presented well. If they’re not, they may fall flat and accomplish very little.
Follow these 10 simple guidelines for finding and telling a story that not only engages and inspires, but also supports the message you want the world to hear.
1. Get yourself something worth writing about.
Not everything that happens in your nonprofit is a story worth sharing. What should you look for? A compelling event. A heartwarming tale about someone you’ve helped. A volunteer who went above and beyond. Look for stories that tug at heartstrings, illustrate your mission or inspire people to support your cause.
2. Keep the main point the main point.
It’s easy to get off on tangents as you write your nonprofit stories. Whether you’re blogging, creating a video, posting to social media or creating a newsletter article, always stay focused. What’s the main point of the story? Skip the extraneous stuff and cut to the heart of the matter. You’ll be much more effective if you keep it simple.
3. Find real-life anecdotes that tap into emotions.
Don’t expect anecdotes to just fall from the sky. Take the time to talk to volunteers, employees, board members and people you’ve served. Be inquisitive, ask questions and look for great stories. They don’t typically just appear—most of them you’ll have to discover.
4. Ask your social networks to share.
You don’t have to limit yourself to the sources mentioned above—you may uncover a hidden gem from an unlikely source in one of your social networks. Maybe someone attended an event, volunteered just once or got involved in some other capacity, but they have a compelling story that’s waiting to be told. Tap into your audience on social media and ask them to share.
5. Use one story several ways.
If you’ve found a really great story that hits on all cylinders (it’s engaging, interesting, heartwarming, communicates your mission, etc.), take advantage of that. You can create a video. Blog post. Social media post. You can feature it on a landing page or donation page. You can even use pull quotes or “sound bites” into appeal letters and direct mail. Milk that story for all it’s worth! It’s okay if people see it featured a few different places—that’s how messages begin to stick.
6. Interview the people involved.
Every compelling story includes people. You can write about them, which is fine—but if possible, write with them. Include them in your writing process by interviewing them and using quotes in your article or blog post. Interview them for a video. Make them an integral part of your storytelling. It’ll make your finished product more engaging, authentic and heartwarming.
7. Tap into the experts.
If you have a great story but a small staff and none of you feel equipped to tell it in the best way possible, it’s okay to outsource—videographers, photographers, content writers or journalists may help you take your nonprofit stories to the next level. If your budget doesn’t allow that, tap into resources at your local college or university. Student interns don’t cost as much, but they may bring valuable expertise and skills that you or your staff needs in order to produce the best content possible.
8. Use powerful images.
It might sound cliché, but it’s really true: A picture is worth a thousand words—sometimes more. If you’re going to run a blog post, article, newsletter feature, social media post or anything where you primarily use words (as opposed to video), always, always include a powerful image. Charity Water is a master at storytelling, and one of the reasons is their use of bold, compelling images that accompany their nonprofit stories. Don’t forget the pictures.
9. Compel people to act, then tell them what to do.
A great story is going to tug on heartstrings or get people excited about your cause—so don’t leave them hanging, wondering how to get involved. Accompany your story with a strong call to action. Do you want them to donate to a particular project? Sign up to volunteer? Become a recurring donor? Be clear and specific, then give your readers an opportunity to get involved with just a click or two.
10. Create a plan to follow up.
Not every great story has a sequel—but it might. And what a shame if you miss it! Once you’ve written, photographed, recorded and packaged a compelling story that’s ready for prime time, tell the people involved, “I’d love to follow up sometime over the next year, just to see how things have developed and if there’s anything else we can share with our constituents. They’ll be so curious to see how things are going.” People get invested in other people, right? That’s a large part of why they give—they care about the individuals you (and they) are helping. If you have a chance to share a “part two” about someone your organization has helped and it’s an inspiring happy ending, your audience will love hearing about it.
Last but not least, proofread everything. Always. Better yet, have someone else read your story before it’s published or posted. You want to catch grammatical and spelling errors, yes. But also ask, does it have a clear beginning, middle and end? Is any information missing? Do you get the main point? Even the pros make revisions.
At Firespring, we create websites and tools that are designed to help nonprofits tell their stories in the most engaging, creative and professional way possible. Best of all, we make it easy and affordable. Want to see for yourself? Request a trial website.