Storytelling has become the nonprofit communications buzzword of 2018, but telling interesting stories isn’t enough to make your organization memorable. If you want to win hearts, minds and checkbooks, you need stories that forge lasting connections between your audience and your brand.
This post doesn’t deal with the mechanics of storytelling. I’ve written about that in previous posts. Instead it offers suggestions to use your brand to power your stories and make them more effective.
Start with your mission statement.
Your mission is the beating heart of your nonprofit. Your staff, donors, clients, and supporters should be able to rely on it to maintain their sense of purpose. Our stories should bring the mission to life.
Many organizations have detailed, multi-paragraph missions. If yours does, you need a streamlined version for external relations. To make sure your mission works as an external communications tool, ask yourself these questions.
- Does it use simple language that makes it immediately understandable? Any jargon should be deleted and replaced.
- Is it short enough to read or say in a few seconds? Your mission is an entry point to the organization for people so don’t demand too much of their time.
- Does it use concrete language that people can picture?
- Does it focus on impact? People don’t want to know how you work, they want to know why it matters. Tell them why you are important not what you
Align your stories with your organization’s values.
Every organization has values. They are a core component of your brand. Write them down; post them on the wall, and build a shared understanding of what they mean to you, your colleagues and stakeholders. Your values should dictate how you behave, how you make decisions, and how your implement your mission. Your audiences should be able to see your values in action through your stories.
Measure your impact.
How do you know you are making progress towards your mission? The most effective stories are supported by one strong data point. What’s yours?
Ask yourself why your mission matters. How are contributing to the larger conversation or ecosystem to make the world a better place? Why should people care? Be explicit about this in your storytelling. Don’t rely on the audience to intuit the answer.
Authenticity has become another buzzword, but it is one that bears repeating. Nonprofits sometimes feel tempted to oversell their successes and hide their problems. This may lead to some occasional wins, but it creates a harmful cycle in which your audiences are conditioned not to recognize that failures are part of every organization’s experience, that they are a source of learning and growth. Be honest about your challenges, revel in your accomplishments, and share the credit with all who helped you get there.