The case for giving: Tell your nonprofit’s story
In 2008, Jeremy Hsu at The Scientific American reported that personal stories and gossip make up 65% of our conversations—and with our always-on, digital world, just think of how high that percentage is now!
The fact is, it’s human nature to talk about personal stories (or the stories we hear about) and correlate them to our lives and experiences.
Nonprofits have great stories to tell and these stories can create added desires for donors to get involved, to increase their gifts or to put themselves on recurring giving plans as a way to insert themselves into the story—to be a part of the action. They say “Yes! I can identify with a part of that story!” and contribute in way of donations.
Why does storytelling work and why is it important in nonprofit fundraising?
Storytelling showcases personality.
The way you tell your stories is something your audience will pick up on as they hear/read/see them over and over again. We all have friends or family members who tell the best stories—and much of that has to do with the way they tell these stories. The personality they bring to the situation. Your stories provide the perfect outlet for showcasing your nonprofit’s personality. Are your stories boisterous and uplifting? Are they more reserved yet emotional? Think about the personality you want to show as you build your stories.
Storytelling elicits emotion.
Think about the great storytellers in your life. What is it about them that draws you in? Is it the way they describe the scenery? The way they pause for dramatic effect? The small details they remember to bring you into the exact place and time where the story takes place? We are emotionally invested when someone tells us a story. Much like movies or podcasts—when we watch or listen to them, our emotions kick in—good, bad or otherwise.
Storytelling creates common ground.
Everyone has a story to tell and everyone can think of a time in their life when they were in need. As you tell your nonprofit’s story, you are creating this common ground—a way for everyone to picture themselves in the story. To identify with a piece of what is or has happened. Think about when your friends or relatives tell you stories. While we are usually good listeners, many of us jump in at certain times of the story to add colorful commentary, to nod because we know exactly what they’re talking about or to interject with similar situations that we’ve experienced.
Storytelling shows that actions = a difference.
Typically, when someone tells you a story, there is a finite ending and whether that ending is positive or negative, it’s the actions throughout the story that created the outcome (the difference) to the story’s end. And for nonprofits, the actions that we can show throughout the story or journey also support the notion that support and actions DO make a difference as to how the story will end.
The elements of your story are important as is making sure the stories relayed throughout the year are purposeful, planned and on-brand. Think about your nonprofit’s story as having five key elements:
1. The character
Who is your story about? Is it a person? A global situation? Multiple people or communities? Describe a day in the life, their situation—give insight into who they are, what they love, what they do. Think about what qualities about them are relevant or relatable to others.
2. The goals
What does your character desire? What needs are you trying to help them attain?
3. The villain
Every story has a villain. For your character, these are typically the obstacles getting in the way of their goals. Is it money? Food? Adequate living conditions?
As you build your story, you’re starting to build the case and connect your donors with a feeling that they want to help. In short, it’s donors to the rescue to help your character overcome the obstacles in his or her way.
Rather than think about your stories as always having happy endings right away, think about the “end” being the impact. This is where you encourage your donors to be a part of the story—to encourage them to keep watch on the story, to tell others and to share what they can be doing to impact your character’s life and create happy endings along the way.
Your story is not your mission statement; your story is about how you are changing lives, how you are creating change, how your donors are impacting others. Your story is what connects the people you serve and those that support them.
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