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Compelling storytelling for nonprofit giving

story-telling for nonprofits

A powerful nonprofit story can change minds, influence change, and impact entire communities.  

Storytelling is how we learn about someone’s struggles and how we can emotionally connect with individuals whether they are 5 feet away or thousands of miles away. 

You don’t need to already be a prominent figure to spread your story to millions of people. Some of the most powerful stories out there were told by regular people. This is the reason we know the stories of Malala and The Invisible People, and why thousands of us work hard to support their causes. 

But how do you promote a story the world thinks is worth spreading? Let’s create a scenario:

We are a charity that helps people like Mia. We want to share Mia’s story to shed light on an issue and grow support. 

How do we share Mia’s nonprofit story effectively? 

The Moth story telling hour: A simple video setup of good lighting and clear sound lets the story shine through.

A picture is worth a thousand words, but a video is worth a million. 

The best way to connect emotionally with Mia’s story is through video. The Video medium especially speaks to modern attention spans, and it’s the content people are most likely to engage with quickly. Because there are so many stories vying for attention, we only have 2-3 seconds to suck the viewer in. 

A video doesn’t have to be an expensive production, they can be shot on a smartphone and still have a strong emotional impact. The main aspects of the video that affect video quality are lighting and sound. If you shoot the video in a well-lit room with minimal background noise, that is a great start to a great video. After that, the key is the story. 

Habitat for Humanity: The Story behind Walter’s home feels emotional and whole with his perspective of the story

Empower the storyteller to deliver the message as productively as possible 

The perfect situation is that Mia, the protagonist of the story, is also the storyteller. Her first-hand accounts and internal perspectives lead to a powerful message, but there are times when Mia may need help delivering the story in a way that will impact viewers.  

Click here to download the complete guide a nonprofit digital marketing strategy.

Practice and discuss the story before ever turning on a recording device. It is worth the time and effort to develop the story the first time around. There are storytelling workshops in every major city – test it out and discuss before building a campaign around it.

The Moth Story Hour, an international movement to celebrate the art and craft of storytelling, makes it their goal to create an environment and process that maximizes the impact of stories. The moth creates simple live recordings and videos of stories that grab the audience with the first sentence. The stories are workshopped for months before they are promoted on the podcast. The difference between being forgotten immediately and inciting real action is the execution of a story.

If you have an impactful story but Mia’s shyness or lack of emotional acceptance may be impeding the message, include a trusted interviewer or mediator to guide the story and shape the outcome, without telling the story second-hand. This gives Mia a voice while also creating a conducive message. 

Feeding America writes micro-stories about true beneficiaries of their organization to stimulate donations.

Tell a nonprofit story that incites action in the message

Mia’s story doesn’t have to have a happy ending… just hope for one. 

Compel viewers to emotion – good or bad. Incite anger in unfairness to provoke action. Empower change through tragedy. If the story hasn’t yet reached a happy ending, it is important to emphasize hope, because it’s hard to put time and energy into a lost cause. So even if it is a tough goal, communicate how the goal is attainable with help.

If Mia’s story does have a happy ending, the action message should be to repeat the happy ending for everyone. The message should be ‘There are still thousands of people like Mia who are struggling.’ This conveys that there is still work to do, and the organization needs help from the public to do it.

The Call To Action should focus on how to help Mia, not the organization helping her 

This means minimal plugging of the organization brand – focus on how you help Mia, not the charity. Because stories of the people impacted by your organization are what drive public support. Give these people a voice without diluting the message with brand awareness. The more stories that are connected to your organization, the more your organization will grow.

Use language that evokes the feeling of joining a movement, instead of just donating money. This focuses on stimulating the growth of monthly donations over one-time payments.  

Ready to incite change by sharing stories? Reach out to the Dowitcher team! 

Nonprofit Digital Marketing Guide

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