One of the most powerful marketing tools for your organization is a great story. But before you start the “telling” part, make sure you have a story that’s worthy of your time and effort. Remember: Once you identify a great story, it doesn’t just have to live in one place. You can write an article or blog post, then tweak and repurpose that content for social media, an annual report, a guest blog post on someone else’s site, a newsletter, a video and the list goes on.
So, step one: Find a story worth talking about. Stories can inspire, educate and motivate people to support your cause—if it’s one worth sharing. If it’s not? It will likely fall flat and not accomplish much.
Start here: How do you find something that’s going to inspire, move, motivate, communicate and draw people to your org?
Use these five tips:
1. Decide what’s worth writing about.
What should you look for? A compelling event that had some magical moments or brought in lots of donations. A volunteer who went above and beyond. An up-close look at someone who benefited from your services—someone whose life was changed because of your impact and efforts.
Look for stories that tug at heartstrings, demonstrate your mission or inspire people to support your cause. When you talk about it, does it give you all the feels? If yes, you’re on the right track. But if it doesn’t make you emotional, it probably won’t do much for your audience.
2. Keep the main point the main point.
It’s easy to go off on tangents when you’re storytelling—there are often a lot of rabbit holes to chase, but all that chasing does is water down your main point. Whether you’re blogging, creating a video, posting to social media or creating a newsletter article, stay focused.
What’s the main message you want to communicate? Skip the extraneous stuff and cut to the heart of the matter. You’ll be much more effective if you make stories simple, and you’ll keep your audience with you all the way to the end.
One way to help you do this: Write everything out, then have someone else read it. Did they get lost in certain places? Did they find it meandering? Was it easy to follow? Listen to their feedback, then tweak and edit accordingly. I’m a writer for a living, and have written hundreds of articles, blog posts, books, and the like, and I’m often still too wordy—even after learning that oftentimes “less is more.” We all need an editor; enlist the help of a friend you trust, and take their honest feedback.
3. Find real-life anecdotes that tap into emotions.
Wouldn’t it be awesome if great anecdotes just fell from the sky or ended up in our mailbox? Unfortunately, great stories often need to be uncovered or discovered. Take the time to talk to volunteers, employees, board members and people you’ve served. Be inquisitive and ask questions. You may even want to create a form on your website or in your newsletter that specifically asks your audience to submit stories. You don’t know what you don’t know, so ask!
Also think “relevant.” We’ve all just lived through a global pandemic for a year; how has your organization fared? Were you able to help people who needed it? How did the pandemic affect your org or the people you serve—or your volunteers? Sometimes narrowing it down to a specific topic or focus can help you find the story you’re looking for.
4. Make storytelling a part of your organization’s culture.
This might mean spending 10 or 15 minutes at the beginning of each staff meeting, asking people to talk about recent events, favorite moments or someone who made an impression on them. Or creating a Slack channel or private Facebook group or even a password-protected portal on your website where staff and volunteers can post story ideas or short snippets that can be expanded upon. If it becomes second nature for everyone to share stories, you may end up with more than you can handle—which would be a really nice “problem” to have.
5. Double-check your facts and proofread before you push anything live.
Whether it’s a video, a blog post, web content or even just a Facebook post, be sure more than one person sees it before you share it. You want to catch grammatical and spelling errors or awkward spots, yes. But also ask:
- Does it have a clear beginning, middle and end?
- Is any information missing?
- Do you get the main point?
- Is it easy to follow, or are there parts that need more explanation?
If the answer to that last question is “yes,” you may not need to add more to the piece you’ve just created—you could instead add extra information to a sidebar or text box or video that accompanies your main piece. Or maybe you just identified another story! Sometimes one story begets another, so pay attention as you’re writing or creating— is there another opportunity to share about something else that could stand alone?
Get your nonprofit storytelling ebook.
So many nonprofits are chock-full of stories that never get told because the process of storytelling can feel daunting. That blinking cursor on a blank page is sometimes the most intimidating thing we face all day. We’d love to help you overcome that fear or anxiety and really make an impact by becoming your org’s best storyteller.
Download our brand new ebook, “Why Storytelling Matters and Five Simple Ways to Get Started” for insights into why storytelling is so important for your nonprofit, plus ways to make the process less painful and much more fulfilling.