Non-Profit Storytelling: How to Stand Out in a Crowd
One of the common questions that I’m asked by potential clients (apart from ‘do you work for commission?’ Er, that’s a no) is:
‘How do we make our story appealing?’
Many charities find it difficult to make their story stand out – usually because they feel intimidated by causes that are more ‘popular’, such as cancer or animal charities.
So how do you improve your non-profit storytelling and, more importantly, inspire donors and potential donors?
1. Don’t make your story about your charity
It may seem obvious but it’s your cause that potential donors are going to support – not your charity per se. So, if you’re fundraising for a new building don’t talk at length about what it will look like and where it is. Focus on the difference that having this building will make to those that your charity works with. Will it help you to reach more people, develop innovative new programmes, make you more sustainable? What are the benefits that will be gained from having a new building?
Or, if you’re running a project for homeless people – the story isn’t about how the project will work, it’s about how it will affect the people that will be taking part.
Remember, the key to good storytelling is not to focus on the nuts and bolts of what you will spend the money on but to focus on the difference that money will make to your user group(s).
2. Use emotion
I’m not suggesting you tell a heart-rending tale every time you put pen to paper for any donor communication – in fact, you may not work in that type of arena at all – but what I mean by using emotion is, when you write, ask yourself how reading this will make the donor feel.
At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.
How does your current storytelling make a donor feel about your organisation and it’s work?
Does it inspire them to get involved or are you just a dull hum in the background of all the other information that they receive on a daily, in fact, hourly, basis?
3. Show, Don’t Tell
This is a rule for any type of storytelling. Tell your story through action, thoughts and feelings rather than simply stating the facts. Of course, there will be a need to convey certain facts but, particularly when you are writing with the aim of trying to make your work come alive for the reader, it’s more important to show them what you do.
‘We helped Maya, a 16 year old single mother to get back to school and get a job when she thought that she had no option but to drop out’ is telling whereas:
“It was really bad in the beginning. I spent most nights in my room with the baby sleeping in the crib next to me while I cried myself to sleep thinking my life was over. Then I met Sylvie at Teen Mums* and she told me about the creche programme they run. It meant I could go back to school and know the baby was being taken care of. Last week, I got my results – 4 A’s and 2 B’s! Now I know I can give my daughter a future because I know that I have one!”
That, is showing.
*(Incidentally, I made up Sylvie and Teen Mums so apologies if you actually exist and aren’t a figment of my imagination!)
Showing tends to mean that you will have to use more words, but it helps to create a clearer picture in the reader’s head and engages them more in your work as they start to imagine what it is that you do.
This rule also applies when you’re asking for a specific sum of money. If you can show donors what it will be spent on – rather than telling them you need it to carry out your work – then they start to get a better idea of how their money will make a difference. For example, Battersea Dogs Home has a regular giving campaign and they spell out what the money is being used for.
“£8 a month could pay for all the care our hand-reared puppies need, including vaccinations to protect against illnesses and disease.”
Is far better than £8 a month helps us to look after the many dogs in our care.
4. Avoid jargon
We use it in everyday working life but avoid jargon when it comes to your storytelling. Donors won’t necessarily understand it – unless they’ve worked in your field, and why would you want to limit your potential donors to only those who have an insider’s understanding of your work?
More importantly, jargon filled text is difficult to read. It won’t leave a donor feeling engaged. In fact, it’s more likely to make them feel confused or even frustrated that you don’t use plain language.
5. Keep it simple
Your charity may be complex and multi-layered but, when it comes to non-profit storytelling, your message should be simple.
This ties into point one – what is the difference your work makes and how can you tell that as simply as possible? What are the outcomes of your work?
6. Use pictures
As I’ve said in an earlier post ‘A picture speaks a thousand words’ – it also gets 12 times as many shares on Facebook and other social media – so don’t forget that when you’re looking to spread the word about your charity and its work, particularly online.
A picture can make your donor feel good about supporting your work – and that’s storytelling gold.
7. Don’t forget a call to action
It’s all very well telling your story – hopefully, you will now have a potential supporter who is feeling inspired, engaged and ready to get involved – but there’s no point in doing all the hard work just to fail at the last hurdle. So what action do you now want the reader to take? Perhaps you want them to sign a campaign petition or write you a cheque, or maybe you’re looking for volunteers for an event – whatever it is, don’t forget to leave your potential donor with a clear understanding of what it is that you would like them to do now.
This article from Hubspot is well worth a read. Featuring 5 great storytelling examples from non-profits, it should give you some food for thought.
I also love this infographic from the Content Management Association – not about nonprofit storytelling specifically – it gives great examples of how to tell your story effectively.