31 Oct How to Create a Culture of Storytelling at Your Nonprofit
Most nonprofits understand the power of storytelling and how it can help them attract more followers, more donations, more press, and more passion from stakeholders.
Stories carry emotional power. A story well told will compel your audience to take action — sign up to volunteer, open their wallets, and tell their friends about your cause.
But knowing that you need to tell a better story and actually developing the capacity to do it is another thing. The most sustainable way to start telling better stories is to make it a priority for your entire organization. This requires you to create a culture of storytelling.
Here are some actionable tips for getting started:
Decide on what kinds of stories to tell
First things first. It’s absolutely crucial that you’re clear about your priorities for program development and fundraising. Once you’ve set your organizational goals, then you can develop your marketing strategy and, critically, which stories will support this direction. Maybe your goal is to engage donors better this year. You can go out and interview existing donors about why they give and tell their personal story. The more emotional and authentic, the better.
Develop an appreciation for storytelling
You might be surprised to know that not everyone in your organization buys into the idea of using storytelling to attract supporters and donors. Maybe they’re more driven by data, or they don’t understand what you mean by “storytelling.” To create more storytellers in your organization, you need to expose everyone to how it works, from the executive director on down. Share examples from leading story-driven nonprofits such as Charity Water, Team Rubicon and Habitat for Humanity. Or pass around these articles to your staff:
- Examples of Great Nonprofit Storytelling
- 4 Beautiful Examples of Compelling Nonprofit Storytelling
- 11 Nonprofit Videos that Inform and Inspire
- Why Your Nonprofit Needs Great Storytelling and How to Do It Right
Create a process for collecting and storing stories
For a storytelling culture to thrive, you need to have a process for collecting, storing and distributing stories. An excellent way to do this is to create a very short survey using a tool like SurveyMonkey or Typeform that asks stakeholders to share their stories. But asking for a “story” can be intimidating because people think you want a complete narrative with a beginning, middle and end. Instead, use prompts like these:
- What was the most interesting / emotional / memorable part of the project or activity for you?
- Describe the moment when you knew you were making a difference?
- What were you feeling when X happened?
- How has working with our organization affected your life?
- Tell us about the most meaningful interaction who’ve had with a client in the past week or month?
- What about our organization resonates the most with you and why?
Cultivate an internal storytelling champion
As you probably know, nothing gets done in an organization if nobody takes responsibility for making it happen. To make storytelling a priority, you need to find someone who will promote it at every step. This person can be the CEO or executive director, but it may be less intimidating and more effective if it’s someone further down, perhaps your marketing director or even a junior associate or intern. This person would be responsible for identifying sources of stories, reaching out for content, creating surveys to send out, editing and shaping up submitted stories, and finding ways to distribute them.
Introduce the idea of a “story start”
A good way to build a storytelling culture is getting people in the habit of telling stories when you meet as a group. For example, you might start every board meeting or all-hands staff meeting by going around the room and asking people to tell their best impact story from the past week or month. Or you might designate one person at every meeting to share their story and make sure they’re prepared to come to the meeting to share the details. People have a natural tendency to share their experiences through stories and this kind of exercise puts it into practice and shows everyone how powerful it can be for the organization.
Make it into an event, not just an ask
To signal that you’re serious about storytelling, devote an entire day or event around stories for your team. You might hire an outside agency to come in and train your staff on storytelling. You could put on an office retreat to brainstorm and shape your stories. You could organize a “field trip” to visit other nonprofits or even for-profit companies that are excellent at storytelling and learn from them.
At Good360, we firmly believe in the power of storytelling. Read our impact stories to learn more about how we’re helping to transform lives through product donations. If you have a great story to share about how we have helped you, please share it here: https://good360.org/impact-stories/submit-your-story/.