Having an impact or being part of an impact is motivating to donors. They give to your non-profit because they want to see a change in the world and be part of making it happen. However many non-profits struggle to explain what their impact is in a clear and compelling way that motivates donations. That’s where storytelling comes in. With a great story, you can illustrate non-profit impact super clearly for donors in a way that other kinds of writing might not be able to capture.
In this article, I’m going to talk about the common challenges of explaining non-profit impact and go over the action steps you can take to explain your non-profit’s impact through storytelling.
Why Non-Profit Impact can be Hard to Explain
In my experience as a copywriter and a reader of many fundraising appeals, I see two common challenges when it comes to explaining a non-profit’s impact.
1. The nature of the work is complex… or so we think – Being in the trenches of your non-profit’s work, you might be convinced that your work or theory of change is very complex and requires technical and detailed explanations. This is your invitation to step away from this writing mindset. Challenge yourself to think about how you would explain your work and impact to an 8 year old or to a grandparent.
Your fundraising and communications work greatly benefits when you write simple, clear copy.
2. Relying on the word “impact” to communicate impact – I can’t even tell you how many appeals I read each year that have a call to action that say ‘donate today to make a difference, have an impact, etc’ yet fail to show me what that impact is. This is a simple problem to fix as it’s about swapping words.
Try reading through an old appeal to look for instances of the word “impact.” Then read around where you used that word to consider if you actually tell donors what that impact is.
Explaining Non-Profit Impact Through Storytelling
If you’re ready to explore new ways of communicating your non-profit’s impact through storytelling, here are your action steps.
1. Start with your organization’s desired impact – This could be your mission statement or even a program specific objective. Get clear about what the original purpose and intention is behind the work.
2. Hunt for the numbers – Next, you’ll want to look at the actual impact versus your desired impact. These are the numbers and other statistics that come out of program or service delivery. For example, the number of people you helped this last year, number of scholarships provided, the number of kids programs you’ve run, etc. If you write grant applications, you may have these numbers handy.
At the basis of all stories are facts and you need to be clear about the facts of your program. If you want to read more about the relationship between facts and non-profit stories, read this article.
3. What does this number represent? – We’re digging deep now to give context and meaning to the numerical impact your organization has. This is probably the hardest part of the process and it’s what will help you identify a key message for your story so it’s worth spending time on. It will also give you imperative direction for finding the right story to explain your non-profit’s impact.
Here are some questions for digging into this activity.
- What is the value of (program/service/organization) to the constituents?
- Considering the outcome or impact metrics, what do those metrics mean for constituents long-term?
- When someone completes a (program/service), what becomes available to them? What new journey or chapter begins in their life?
- What does it mean for a (person/community/place) to benefit from this (program/service/project)? What do they receive directly and indirectly?
Another way you can do this activity and get your creative juices flowing is to interview yourself! Here’s my guide to conducting story interviews.
4. Find a story that shows the impact – Now that you’ve spent some time digging into what your impact metrics mean, you have context to make those numbers mean something. That means your next step is to find a specific story that illustrates the meaning you want to assign to this impact metric.
It might be tempting to overthink this, but don’t! All we’re doing in this step is aligning that message to the story content. It’s important, but not something we need to overcomplicate.
For a refresher or more in-depth reading, I recommend reading this post on Creating Key Messages for Fundraising and this series on relevant messaging from Non-Profit Marketing Guide.
If you’d like to do some additional reading on pairing stories and messages, I recommend my post on How to Plan Your Non-Profit’s Stories for the Next 90 Days and my post on How to Create Your Non-Profit’s Annual Story Strategy.
The thing about explaining impact and telling stories about your organization’s impact is that it doesn’t have to be complicated. It can actually be very simple. As you move towards a more story-based approach to fundraising and communications, I invite you to go back to the basics of clear, compelling messaging and pairing messages with a powerful story.
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