Nonprofit Visual Storytelling: Using the Power of Story to Spark Human Connection
Storytelling is a powerful communication tool to engage your audience and inspire them to take action. Why is it so powerful? It’s because the human brain is hardwired to seek out stories. Story is how we identify ourselves, interact as social beings and make sense of our world. From tuning into the morning news, to the bedtime stories we read to our children, story resonates throughout our
Studies have shown that the human brain responds to stories on a much deeper level than facts or data. A well-told story affects us psychologically and physiologically, putting our whole brain to work, igniting our neurons, and even changing our blood chemistry. That’s because story creates emotion, and it’s our emotions that drive us to make decisions.
The nonprofit organizations that understand the power of well-crafted stories will have a leg up in their marketing efforts today—and in the future. In the words of Melinda Gates, co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, “The power of stories opens our heart to a new place, which opens our minds, which leads to action.”
With today’s ever-changing communication landscape, the challenge for nonprofits is how to effectively communicate their stories to inspire their supporters to take action.
Show, Don’t Tell
The old adage, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” has never been truer. According to LinkedIn, 4.68 billion pieces of content are produced daily. Along with the heavy competition in fundraising efforts, nonprofit organizations need to make their narrative stand out from the crowd.
Coupled with today’s bombardment of content is the challenge for the consumer to process it. With so much to consume, people need to be able to absorb information quickly. Asking your supporters to wade through a page of text isn’t the most compelling form of communication in today’s world of
Visual storytelling, which means using photos, video and/or graphics to enhance your story, is a much more effective form of communication than the written word alone.
From the early cave paintings, to modern films, man has used visual imagery to represent narratives. Studies have shown that 90 percent of the information our brains process daily is visual. (Source: 3M). Because our brains are so adept at processing imagery,
visuals intensify our emotional experience in a way that text alone cannot. Even the most shocking data about child hunger can’t compare with the emotional impact of seeing an image of a hungry child.
Creating visual stories may seem like a daunting task, but it’s not. Before you start, you need to identify your audience and your distribution model. What is the purpose of your story, who will be watching it and on what platform? Then decide on the best visuals to create. Do you need to use photos, graphics or video to help tell your story?
Storytelling With Video
Video is a very effective visual storytelling tool that works across many platforms. It’s estimated that, by 2020, 80 percent of all mobile content will be video. (Source: Cisco). If your video is for your website, or for a fundraising package, then you may want to invest in a professional production. However, if you are posting your stories on social media, you can simply capture photos and video from a smartphone.
Be sure to make your videos specific, short and authentic. Zero in on personal stories that represent the core value of your organization. Engage donors, staff, volunteers to tell their stories. Why are they passionate about your mission?
Videos should be under five minutes for an overview/promotional video and no more than one to three minutes (or less) for social media distribution. Keep your video moving with B-roll and edits that keep it visually engaging. There are consumer editing programs available that are easy to learn and inexpensive to use. Avoid long static interviews, and don’t overlook the power of music to create emotion. Music libraries are readily available online and are reasonably priced.
Text Isn’t Dead
I’m not advocating abandoning text altogether. Text and visuals can go hand-in-hand to create an effective narrative. Just remember to keep the text specific and use bold imagery to enhance key points. Visual storytelling doesn’t replace your organization’s tried and true fundraising efforts, like events, data collection, direct mail and personal contact, but is a critical tool to reinforce those efforts and keep up with today’s trends in content consumption.
Using visual storytelling, you can take advantage of the increased distribution opportunities of the image-oriented social media outlets, connect on a deeper level with your supporters, reach a wider audience and improve fundraising results. Visual storytelling is the future. Embracing it now will help you keep up with the current and future trends in marketing communication.
She attended California College of Arts and Crafts, before graduating from University of California, Berkeley, and is a long standing member of the SAG-AFTRA Guild, a member of the Visual Effects Society Bay Area Section Board of Managers and 2nd Vice Chair of the Visual Effects Society Board of Directors.