Let’s face it: there are a lot of non-profit stories out there. The vast majority, as @FundraiserBeth would say, are just “meh.” Storytelling is the new norm of non-profit communications and with its uptick comes the need for you to stand out from the crowd.
One question I often get asked is: what’s the difference between a good story and a great story?
When I think about great stories in broad terms (fiction, non-fiction, personal stories, etc.) the great ones have two characteristics in common:
- Great stories make us feel something
- Great stories are authentic
I believe one of the core purposes of storytelling is to take us on a journey from thinking to feeling. They move us beyond our logic. They challenge us emotionally, and sometimes confront us. Through emotion we are able to connect with one another, to build meaningful connection. Ultimately, this is what we are striving for: connection.
As I think about examples of great stories, some of the most powerful ones that come to mind have been told to me in person or have appeared in a video. I think there’s something very personal about both of those mediums that really asks the listeners to get involved, whereas when they are reading a story and it is easy to disengage.
I have two examples of videos I want to share with you
The first is a recap of “The Ride to Conquer Cancer 2012.” It’s filled with the stories of event participants and the reasons why they decided to ride their bikes from Vancouver, BC to Seattle, WA. In the 3 years that I’ve been showing this video to people, I’ve yet to make it through the whole thing without crying.
The other video is from The Arnold Palmer Children’s Hospital. So touching! When I watch this video, I always find myself empathizing with the parents and feeling like that doctor’s job must have been so tough.
These are both examples of video storytelling from organizations that have a lot of resources to put into video production. I want to emphasize that it’s not the quality of the production that counts. It’s the story. That’s what matters.
In addition to stories that make you feel something, I also mentioned that authenticity is important. All too often, non-profit stories get told through the filter of the “corporate organizational voice.” In other words, they don’t sound like a human is telling them.
Recently in The Storytelling Non-Profit LinkedIn group, one of the members shared a social media storytelling success from her organization’s Facebook page. Her post went viral and she was looking for advice as to how to capitalize on the success. What ensued was an interesting conversation about why that particular post was so successful. As a fellow group member, Heather, said, “Storytelling doesn’t mean you have to be a writer of excellent caliber to write lengthy, deep stories. I think storytelling for nonprofits comes down to the human element and capturing that as honestly and genuinely as possible and I think you did just that. Without even thinking about it after reading your post, I ‘liked’ it.”
That’s some food for thought about good stories versus great stories.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject! Leave a comment below about what you think makes a great story. If you have examples or favorite stories you’d like to share, feel free to leave a link.
P.S. I’m going to be teaching a webinar on this very topic during The Storytelling Non-Profit Virtual Conference if you are interested in a deeper dive on the topic.
Beth Ann Locke says
I love this post! Great information. And yes, the production values were high… but especially with the Arnold Palmer video, much of it is the words from the doc. Thanks for sharing the tips and videos.
Todd Felton says
Yes – good stuff. I really like the Arnold Palmer story because it has a clear narrative arc and focuses on a specific person. Although the role of the hospital remains in the background, its mission is clear and compelling through the words of the doctor. It is a great example of a story NOT told through the organizational voice.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Beth Ann & Todd!
You both hit the nail on the head that it’s the doctor who makes the Arnold Palmer video great.
Dina Gaines says
I think also what makes it so touching, and moves these stories into the “great” category is that we all have inside of us the ability to care and do like these people did.
They are normal people with normal feelings and actions, and they are doing something great with their feelings and actions.
We are not all doctors, and we are not all fit enough to ride that far, but we care and we can see what they did and think about how we can do some sort of equivalent in our own lives.
Taking the story and making it real inside of our heads, with us wanting to be *in* the story, and exploring how maybe we *can* be in the story.
I think that is what makes stories great. Especially for nonprofits.
Heather Dauphiny says
Dina – I love the importance you placed on making the viewer/reader feel like they could be part of the story, too. And like you said, it’s a great tool for nonprofits to use – make the donor/prospective donor feel like they could be the person in the story you’re telling. Making the stories real and genuine makes it easier for people to connect with and see themselves in a future version of a similar story.