The Comprehensive Guide to Nonprofit Storytelling

Marketing and Social Media

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Storytelling is one of the hottest topics in the nonprofit world right now, and for good reason. Mastering the art of nonprofit storytelling is a valuable way to find new supporters and keep them involved with your organization. 

There’s a lot of discussion about storytelling for nonprofits, lively debate about the best way to build and tell narratives, and endless theories about the most effective ways to use different kinds of media to capture your story. In other words, there’s a lot of information out there! In case you don’t have time to comb through all those articles, here’s a summary of what nonprofit storytelling looks like and how you can put it to work for you: 

A mother reading a story to her child.

1. Who cares if you have a story?

Short answer? Everyone cares if you have a story. If you want people to contribute to your cause, showing them what your organization does is absolutely critical. And in today’s fast-paced, busy world, a quick paragraph or two containing a fancy-sounding mission statement isn’t going to cut it. 

Gone are the days of bullet-pointed lists of statistics and walls of text on webpages. Supporters respond better to pictures of the people you help, creative videos about your projects, regular updates about what you’re doing, and real-life anecdotes from your volunteers and the people you support. You’ve got a whole arsenal of tools you can use to make your nonprofit’s story heartfelt and effective, so it’s time to start using platforms like Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and the innumerable other photo- and media-sharing programs out there. 

2. Why does it matter?

Your organization’s story is the most valuable asset you’ve got. It’s what sets you apart from other nonprofits and builds emotional bonds between you and your donors. Showing your supporters what you do with their money lends you an invaluable level of transparency that makes them trust you, and telling them how they’re changing the world keeps them coming back. 

Building emotional ties with your people is an effective way to gain financial support, and happy donors are donors that will continue their support. Connect with donors, stay connected with donors, and give your donors confidence that they are making a difference. You can do it all with your story. 

3. So you’ve got a story. What do you do with it?

You could have the best story in the world, but it won’t make much of a difference if you don’t share it effectively. Websites and social media channels are, of course, the first place one goes to share a nonprofit’s story. But don’t neglect the physical world! Are you sharing your story in your newsletters? In mail appeals? In thank-you letters? At events and in flyers? There’s so much you can do with a good story! You’re only limited by your imagination. 

4. How to tell your story

If you don’t have a nonprofit story to tell yet, it’s probably because you’re unsure of how to write it. Chances are, you’ve impacted numerous people and have all the material you need to write a compelling story. You just haven’t managed to turn it into one yet. So, how do you get down to business and write your first nonprofit story? 

You can start by identifying your 4 Ps of storytelling! 

What are the 4 Ps of storytelling?

1. People

Who are the people who will appear in your story? What roles do they play? For many nonprofits this can be a volunteer or member of staff working toward your mission. You could even highlight a beneficiary of your services who had a positive outcome because of what you made possible.  

2. Place

Where does your story take place? Does your story include multiple locations or just one? What role does the location play in your story? Think about the physical presence of your nonprofit and bring it alive for your donors.

3. Plot

What happens in your story that will make readers want to support your nonprofit organization? How did you help make someone’s life better? That is what people want to read about. Your plot should be as simple as a person needed help, your nonprofit provided assistance, and this assistance led to a positive outcome for the beneficiary of your story.

4. Purpose

Why are you telling the story that you’re telling? Are you trying to inspire your supporters to give again? Or are you trying to reach new supporters and introduce them to your nonprofit organization and the work you do? Another purpose for your storytelling is to inspire your staff and volunteers and reaffirm that what they do matters. There are a lot of different reasons you may need to tell a nonprofit story. The purpose of that story can determine how best to tell that story to make it as effective as possible.

5. Storytelling on social media

One key place to tell your nonprofit’s story is on social media. This is where many of your supporters spend their time online, and it’s actually one of the places they’ll go to research your organization. If you want them to know about the work you do, including a post with a nonprofit story is the ideal way to introduce them to your nonprofit. You may provide a lot of different services at your organization, so try to write multiple stories that highlight the good that you do across your entire nonprofit. That doesn’t mean you should write just one all-encompassing story with tons of details and more than one person and plot. That’d be confusing! Instead, write several stories that explain who you are and what you do in a simple, digestible way.

Why tell your story online?

You may be wondering, “Why should I tell my story online? Why is social media so important?” When it comes to reaching people, social media is a low-cost way to get your story in front of new audiences. Yes, your current supporters are on social media, but so are many more potential supporters who just haven’t been exposed to your messaging yet. People who are connected to your supporters, for instance, may read one of your stories through a supporter sharing your post and then decide to donate. That’s a very real and plausible thing to have happen when you share your stories on social media, especially if you encourage your supporters to share your posts and get more eyes on your work.

Storytelling on social media is great for increasing your reach organically. You can also choose to advertise and tell your story to your ideal audience across social media. One thing that many social media channels have available to them is a wealth of demographic information about their users. You can easily reach the right people with your messaging through social media advertising and receive support from people you otherwise wouldn’t have reached. Just be sure you’ve written your story for your target audience and that you’re choosing to advertise to that target audience on social media in a format that makes sense for the platform.

How to tell your story on each social media channel

Social media apps on a smartphone.

Facebook

The first place you should be sharing your nonprofit stories is Facebook. Facebook is the largest social networking site in the world. If you want to reach people with your story it’s a great place to start. But how do you tell your story on Facebook in a way that earns engagement and gets people to take action?

You need to start by making your story visually appealing. Facebook enables its users to incorporate text with photos and videos to make storytelling a visual experience. You can easily pair your text with eye-catching photos to tell your story, or even make a video with captions. You can either tell the whole story or encourage readers to learn more by clicking a link to your website (most likely to a donation page) to learn more and take action by donating to your cause. Want to learn more about storytelling on the Facebook platform? Check out this article from Facebook.

Twitter

Twitter is another place where you can share your story. You’ll want to use relevant hashtags so people searching for posts like yours can find it easily. Because of the character limits of Twitter, you’ll need to draw your readers in with a concise piece of your story—a hook to get them interested—then encourage them to learn more by clicking on a link to your website (again, you’d probably direct them to a donation page where they can learn more and support your cause).

Twitter also supports images and videos, so remember to make your stories visually appealing here as well. You can post a video of your entire story with some text and a hashtag that describes it or supplement the text about your story with a relevant photo to draw eyes to your content.

Instagram

Instagram is all about images and short video reels. Stories told on Instagram are told visually without a lot of text. Because you can’t post links directly in your posts, you’ll need to include a link in your bio to direct people to the rest of your story. Typically, this can mean telling one story at a time, in a compelling way.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn is a professional networking site and is great for sharing milestones and major moments at your nonprofit organization. Like Facebook, a post with an eye-catching photo and text does well and encourages more engagement than just plain text posts. That said, because of the nature of LinkedIn, it can be hard to find new supporters because it’s used more as a professional networking site. Instead, stories told on LinkedIn can be used to inspire new hires, potential employees, or even to seek out volunteers.

TikTok

TikTok is a social media platform that was created exclusively for video content. You need to tell your nonprofit story in video format to make use of TikTok. Like Instagram, your individual posts can’t support links, so be sure to include a link in your bio or an easy-to-remember link displayed on screen at the end of your video where viewers can go to learn more and support your cause. Videos are capped at three minutes, so try to be as efficient as possible with your storytelling. If you must go longer than three minutes, be sure to film multiple parts of your story and host them side by side on your account so those who are invested in the story can easily click from part one to two and so on. Want more tips for TikTok storytelling? Check out this article for their tips and tricks.

Conclusion

The importance of effective storytelling really can’t be overstated. Your story is an essential part of your fundraising arsenal and should be used to show prospective donors why they should give to your organization. Your story will look different depending on where you share it and for whom you write it, but that’s okay. What matters is that you’re writing effective copy that gets people to take the action that you want, supporting your nonprofit organization!

For more storytelling tips download the Nonprofit Storytelling eBook.

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