There has been a lot of talk about non-profit storytelling over the last few years. Some might say that everything has been said, but as I thought about this more over the last few months. I think there’s (at least) one very important factor in storytelling success that we haven’t talked about.
The factor in non-profit storytelling that I think we should be talking about is this — the best stories are never told in a vaccum.
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 (credit to Tom Ahern, I think?). It’s very easy to construct and tell a story about your non-profit, its programs and its services. In fact, this is what most stories are about. They highlight the program, service or work. They talk about a specific person helped by that program, service or work. They talk about the role the organization played and the donor as the hero of the story. All of this is the vacuum (or narrow context) of your non-profit.
What I’m suggesting is not that these pieces are not important. In fact they are.
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. Connecting the dots between this and your organization is the piece that most stories are missing.
When I look some of the most successful appeals and stories I’ve worked on in recent years there is always a connection to a broader context of the work. This works because it provides people with more information to understand why it’s 1) relevant and 2) urgent. Two ingredients we need in a compelling story and fundraising appeal.
In some cases, this means piggybacking on stories in the current news cycle. Tapping in to what is already top of mind for your audience allows you to leverage the broader conversations and give your audience an action to take like making a donation or signing a petition.
I’ll give you an example of what I’m talking about (see the image below). WAVAW Rape Crisis Centre provides counseling support for women who have experienced any kind of sexualized violence and does advocacy work to end violence against women. Unfortunately, there are often high-profile sexual assault and harassment cases in the news, which generate a lot of conversation about the broader topic of violence against women. One of those cases in 2016 was CBC host Jian Ghomeshi. When the a non-guilty verdict came down, there was a ripe moment for WAVAW to comment on this case and connect it to their stance and work. They gave their supporters a path to action, something to do, in this moment of injustice.
Sure, WAVAW could have not commented on this trail. They could have continued to send out appeals to get support for their crisis line and counseling programs. But they would have missed an opportunity to make their work even more relevant and urgent.
As we head towards year-end fundraising and a deluge of appeals and stories, everyone is trying to figure out how to stand out. Yes, stories can help you stand out and be memorable. If you really want to kick it up a notch, connect your story, your work to something bigger. Help your audience and your donors see the bigger picture.