There is a lot that I can say about storytelling in the non-profit sector. What you may not know about me and my long-term commitment to storytelling as a strategy is that it’s much deeper than being used as a tactic to raise more money.
Yes, of course, we know storytelling is useful and beneficial for fundraising. I don’t think you need to to tell you that.
But, the benefits of and reasons for telling stories go beyond fundraising. Stories are an opportunity to connect at a values level with your audience. Connecting with people in such a fundamental way is essential. It’s what builds community and movements. To not talk about this as a part of our public and sector wide conversation about storytelling is a disservice to our work.
I’m going to take the opportunity to talk about this and other important aspects of storytelling that every organization should think about this year.
#1 – The most successful storytelling is always driven by values
One of the most essential things a story (and fundraising/communications material) needs to answer is, “What does it say about me?” What does it say about the donor or reader if they agree? What does it say about them if they disagree? The answer to these questions always gets to the foundation values that drive someone to answer a call to action. Take the time to be values aligned and driven.
#2 – Successful storytelling does not happen in the vacuum of a non-profit
I’ve heard it said before that no one likes an ego manic and most non-profits are ego manics when it comes to their fundraising materials. It’s very easy to construct and tell a story about your non-profit, its programs and its services. But I’d be willing to bet that your non-profit’s work is related to some sort of larger cause or perhaps current social or cultural conversation. It is essential that you connect the dots between your story, your organization, and the broad conversation.
Why? It provides people with more information to understand why it’s 1) relevant and 2) urgent. Two ingredients we need in fundraising and action-related communications.
If you’d like to see an example of this in action, check out this post that discussing connecting your organization’s story to a broader context.
#3 – Storytelling is really community building
If you work in fundraising, you may not think about the idea of community building very often. And yet, the fundraising work we do on the regular is about building a donor community. Similarly, communications work is a type of community building. The purpose of all that community building is to a group of people who know, like and trust your organization. By telling stories that connect people through values, you are building a strong community of people who will be loyal to the message and story of your organization. And by reinforcing that story over time, you’ll be able to cultivate and grow that community even more.
As you start the year, I want to encourage you to think about intentional storytelling so that you can build a great community that supports you work. No doubt, this takes work but it’s worthwhile work that can support your organization’s sustainability.