Nonprofits rely on storytelling to share the impact our programs make in they world. But our stories often go out in a random way–without thought to their overall combined message. If that’s the case, these stories aren’t connected. They don’t support the larger story of the vision. Readers can’t follow the thread of what we do and why we do it in the particular way we do. They can’t tell where our organization fits in the bigger picture of all the other groups working to solve this problem. If this kind of disconnect is happening, we might want to look at how our stories contribute to the story of the organization and its work.
Even our stories tell stories.
Our stories tell stories. An email here, a social post there, and maybe some longer pieces in a newsletter. It feels like we’re communicating, but do those bits and pieces tell a compelling story when we put them together? Can we look at them together and get a clear picture of what we do, why we do it, our specific role in solving the problem, and how the reader can be part of that? Are the stories we tell building a strong case for support?
The individual stories we tell are like brush strokes in a painting. Each one adds a layer of color or texture. Together, they create an image–the big picture of our organization and its mission.
If we don’t consider this big picture story, then we risk telling stories in a hodgepodge manner. An update here, a donor story there. Sprinkle in some transformation stories and a program update, and we call it a day. These disembodied stories risk leaving potential supporters with no compelling connection to us or to our mission. They can’t see the big picture clearly through all the random brush strokes.
Our nonprofit stories need to work together to tell a coherent and compelling story about our vision, our values, and our mission.
Let’s look at three stories from one of the best storytelling nonprofits out there (I literally grabbed the first three stories from their blog).
- Story A tells the story of a young girl that shows how education programs help the community benefit long term from the work this organization does.
- Story B gets into the technical side of the organization’s work. It explains a global framework for understanding the problem they solve, offers statistics showing how far the sector has come, and the role this organization plays.
- Story C is a constituent story. While the organization tends to focus on health and education, this woman said their work made her beautiful! She taught the organization something new about what their mission means.
Each story emphasized key priorities for that organization and included details that reinforced their values. Together, these stories give us a big picture view of what the organization does, why they do it, how they are solving a problem, and how they treat people in the process.
Each story serves the larger vision.
Another organization posts random quotes on social media, with occasional program updates that say little more than “here’s what we did!” Stories stick to the bare facts. We rarely get context for the work they do. It’s hard to place them in the grand scheme of things, because the storytelling is so disjointed.
One organization presents a compelling case for support through stories. It’s hard to tell what the other is doing. Or worse–hard to tell what they want donors to do.
Which storytelling approach does your organization use? Are you painting abstracts, or something people can more easily relate to?
Make your stories serve the larger vision.
As you prepare your stories, use these questions to fit each one into the overall story of your organization.
- How does this story demonstrate our values?
- How does this story show us addressing the problem we solve?
- How does this story provide context for what we’re doing?
- How can this story help someone get to know us on a deeper level?