The non-profits that I work with on storytelling and communications tend to be in very different places. Some have been telling stories for years and want to refine their techniques. Others are just getting started and need help figuring out what to do. This post is the latter group and one I’ve been meaning to write for many months. This post is a guide to help your non-profit start telling stories today.
Start with your message
Every non-profit organization will have a couple of key talking points (or messages) that they want to convey on a monthly, quarterly, or annual basis. Carve out some time to create your core message(s). This is a helpful exercise when doing fundraising or communications planning on a multi-month basis.
You can also determine your message for a specific appeal or campaign. This is helpful if you have a specific project in mind that you want to work on.
Know Your Audience
Once your message(s), it’s time to get familiar with the audience that you want to communicate that message to. There are many reasons why knowing your audience is important and it all comes down to having audience profile. Having a crystal clear picture of who you want to communicate with will help you communicate more effectively.
After you have created an audience profile, here are 5 ways to leverage it’s potential.
Knowing your audience will also help you create a connection with them more quickly.
As you get to know your audience, it’s also helpful to define how you want to engage them. In other words – what is the goal of telling them a story?
Find a Story to Tell
Now that you know your message and your audience, it’s time to find a story that will 1) communicate your message and 2) resonate with your audience.
One of the challenges here is that fundraisers and communications professionals don’t have access to the stories they want to tell. Consider how you can better coordinate collecting stories from program staff.
Developing storytelling guidelines can be a helpful activity when you want to get everyone on board.
These 5 tools might also help you unearth stories at your organization.
You can also give staff members prompts to brainstorm story ideas.
Of course, client stories are not the only stories you could tell. You can also collect donor stories.
Once you’ve found a story lead, you will probably need to interview that person. Here are 5 tips for interviewing someone for their story. And there’s 1 question you’ll want to avoid asking.
I’ve answered a few frequently asked questions about collecting stories here.
Finally – some food for thought – how to support someone when they are telling their story.
Developing the Story
Many people that I talk to who work at non-profits have unintentionally found themselves in a role that requires a lot of writing. Luckily, non-profit writing is more of a science than it is an art. In other words – it is a skill that can be learned!
A great story follows a particular structure: connection, character, conflict, resolution, and (sometimes) call to action.
No matter the structure, this is one element you will not want to leave out of your story.
You can start your story with a quote or lead with a question to create a connection.
Develop your conflict well because it’s your case for support. Do you feel like your story does not have a conflict. Read this.
If you’re facing writer’s block, try getting emotional. You can also try 1 of these 25 tips to overcome writer’s block.
Ideally, you want to tell your story with emotions and details.
If you find that your copy is not getting the results you hoped for, you might be making one of these mistakes.
The thing you’ll want to avoid is boring your donors to death.
Once you have a story to tell, there are many ways that you can share that story. If you’re trying to figure out how to share it, my recommendation is to pick the medium or channel that your audience likes the best. This will increase the chances that they will actually see the story.
Here are 25 cost effective ways that you can share stories.
Social media also provides non-profits with lots of opportunities for storytelling. Here are 8 ideas to get you started with social media storytelling.
Tell stories during major donor visits.
Emails are also a good place to tell stories.
You can share a story in a thank you letter.
Telling stories in donor newsletters is a great relationship building tool.
Getting your board members to tell stories is a great use of their time and talents as a volunteer.
Finally, measuring the effectiveness of your stories is always worthwhile.