When it’s the beginning of a new calendar year or the start of a new fiscal year, the fresh start is a great time to create your non-profit’s annual story strategy. Just like creating a fundraising plan or a communications plan, a story strategy is your opportunity to build a clear roadmap to your goals. And more importantly, it’s your opportunity to clarify how storytelling will support your fundraising or communications goals.
After all, storytelling is a tool and we want to be strategic in how we use that tool. You don’t need to publish endless amounts of story content because it’s what you think you should be doing. In this article, we’re going to take a step back from reactive storytelling to get intentional and on message!
Read on to learn about the 6 steps you need to take to create your annual story strategy.
Why Create an Annual Story Strategy for Your Non-Profit
If you’ve been telling stories just for the sake of telling stories, I’m going to invite you to take a step back. That is not the most efficient way to get fundraising and communications results from storytelling. What you need is a purpose driven plan for non-profit storytelling. That’s where an annual story strategy comes in.
An annual story strategy is essentially your annual plan for how you’ll accomplish your fundraising and communications goals with the support of storytelling. I like this approach because it helps you align content with strategic goals so that more of what you do is truly purposeful and strategic.
How to Build Your Annual Story Strategy
Let’s get started building your non-profit’s annual story strategy. Here you’ll learn the six essential steps you’ll need to take to get organized and get results.
Goal Setting & Priorities
First, we’ll look at your big picture goals. This is essential if you want to truly give storytelling a purpose within your work. To help you set a goal for the next year, answer the following questions:
- In what ways has your organization used storytelling in the last year?
- Where did storytelling prove to be most effective?
- Where did storytelling not get the results you anticipated?
Answering these three questions will help you zoom out to see what’s working and what’s not in how you use storytelling. Use this information to inform the goal(s) you set for this year!
Now, on to setting your goal for the next year. We’re going to do this mad-libs style!
Our non-profit will use storytelling in our (fundraising or communications program) to (goal aka what you want to accomplish). We will accomplish this goal with the help of storytelling by doing (list one to three things you will do).
Here’s an example for you:
Our non-profit will use storytelling in our fundraising program to help us raise $1m through email fundraising. We will accomplish this goal with the help of storytelling by telling stories in fundraising emails, creatively integrating stories into stewardship and sharing our donors’ stories.
I like having a goal statement like this because it gives you additional clarity and direction for the next parts of the planning process.
Campaigns and Time-Sensitive Priorities
Before we get into the storytelling specifics, it’s useful to give yourself more clarity on how you’ll be using stories. In the spirit of moving away from storytelling content creation and towards storytelling with purpose, we’re going to use our campaigns and other time-sensitive priorities for direction.
While you may not be able to predict every campaign or communications opportunity that’s going to come up in the next year, I’m willing to bet that you can foresee quite a few of them. You can start by making a list or blocking them out in a calendar. It doesn’t need to be any fancier than that. At this stage we simply need to know what the opportunities are for storytelling.
Using my example goal, here’s what my list of goals and time-sensitive priorities could look like:
- January stewardship campaign for year-end donors
- Spring annual appeal
- Thanksgiving stewardship campaign
- Giving Tuesday/Year-End Fundraising
Not an exhaustive list since we’re using a hypothetical example but I hope it gives you some ideas.
Key messages are the final piece of information that we want to inform our storytelling content strategy. A lot of non-profits by-pass this step, so don’t make this mistake!
Allow your key messages to inform what kinds of stories you tell. Using this approach, you are more likely to tell an impactful story because it will be aligned with a strategic message that is oriented towards a fundraising or communications goal.
Have a short list of key messages that you’re working with for the year. This could be anywhere from 1 to 5 messages. Some might be specific to campaigns or communications initiatives.
I’ve written an in-depth post on creating key messages for fundraising here.
I’ll also add that messaging isn’t set in stone. Good messaging has through lines and it evolves over time. Conversely if you find messaging isn’t resonating, don’t feel like you have to stick it out.
Now we are going to get into the stories. When I’m building a storytelling content strategy, I like to brainstorm to get all the ideas out of my head and on paper.
During a story brainstorm, I give myself a bit of direction. I will create a table that helps me see the storytelling opportunities (aka campaigns) and messaging. Again, this is all about continuing to pull through the most important information to be strategic.
Now here’s a key thing to remember when you brainstorm — you don’t have to write down stories that you are 100% certain you have. The idea here is to get your creativity flowing to come up with ideas. We’ll tackle finding the stores in the next step.
Here’s an example.
|Campaign or Storytelling Opportunity||Key Message(s)||Story Ideas|
|Spring appeal in late March – includes direct mail, email and social posts||A donation to XYZ animal shelter means that more animals can find their forever home||A pet who has found a forever home|
An pet owner who has given multiple animals their forever home
If your storytelling is not as driven by campaigns, here’s another way you could do your story brainstorm using a calendar approach. For each month, you can assign a unifying theme that ties into key messaging you’re focusing on.
|Month||Theme + Key Message||Story Ideas|
If you find yourself stumped during the story brainstorm, here are a few things you can do:
- Go back and look at stories you’ve told in the last few months for inspiration.
- Look at stories that received a good response and consider if you can tell them from a different perspective.
- Take a look at what other non-profits are doing. We can all draw inspiration from each other!
You’ve got your brainstorm complete and at this point, you’ll likely see your plan coming together. You have clear ideas for storytelling content for different campaigns and communications opportunities. Your next step is to start collecting and sourcing the stories.
In some cases, you might have stories that work perfectly for your campaign and messaging. Awesome! If you’ve used the story before, don’t be afraid to repurpose it again.
If you need to find some brand new stories, let’s get to work putting out the feelers.
- Talk to colleagues during staff meetings about what kind of stories you want to tell this year
- Send emails to volunteers or donors with requests for stories
- Include a call for stories on social media, newsletters, or an upcoming email to your list
I have a treasure trove of advice on collecting stories for non-profits in these posts:
3 Tips for Find Stories to Tell
How to Ask Your Non-Profit’s Community to Share Stories
5 Ways to Start a Story Library for Your Non-Profit
Create Your Content
The final step of your annual story strategy is to roll up your sleeves to create the content you need. From writing stories to integrating stories into your social media posts or emails, you will likely need to create a good amount of content.
My best advice to execute your annual story strategy is to block off consistent times in your calendar to batch create your content. You can watch a video I have on batching your content for an entire month here. Batching content is my preferred method of content creation (when possible) because it streamlines the content creation process. Typically I block off one to three days a month for content creation.
From start to execution, this is how you can create an annual story strategy for your non-profit. I hope that this in-depth guide helps you tell purposeful stories that help you reach your most important goals this year!