The Magic of Moving People Through Nonprofit Storytelling
Who doesn’t love a good story? When it comes to the nonprofit marketing space, and you’re asking people to reach deep into their pockets and donate to your mission, your story better be good.
Go with me here for a minute. When I was a kid, I was the founder and COO of my own little nonprofit. (Kinda.) It was the Nicole Needs a Puppy Foundation—a lemonade stand that raised funds for the adoption of an American Eskimo puppy named Shasta.
And let me tell you, on the sunny streets of Lakewood, Ca., the lemonade game was crowded. I had to be smart and tie my lemonade to a story in order to show thirsty passer-byers that my lemonade would give a puppy a family and a home. (Everyone loves puppies. And if you don’t, you’re basically a monster.) So, I put up pictures of Shasta. I labeled my money jar “Puppy Fund.” I told everyone my story, and they became advocates for my mission. And wouldn’t you know it? It worked. At the end of the summer, I had raised half the adoption fee (like my parents had asked) and Shasta came home for good. Heart strings? Consider them tugged.
And it’s not all that different now in my career as a writer and nonprofit storyteller. Having written for a long roster of nonprofit organizations, I’ve seen a lot of success using stories about real people, places or animals who need something. For example, an environmentally focused organization uses stories to advance their mission; but we don’t just talk about arctic ice melting or show images of shrunken glaciers. We put a polar bear on that shrinking glacier. We make her a mama bear and talk about her small cubs who are losing their habitat to global warming. We draw people in and ask them to embrace the mission in their heart—to imagine what it would be like to lose their own home. That’s what allows the audience to feel empathy.
Storytelling can do so much to impact your donors and your mission. A great story can:
- Influence human behavior. Stories and your brain. Think about it—you’re chock full of stories. And the stories act kind of like a filter—what things to accept to be true and what is a bunch of phony bologna. A real-life testimonial about a real person (or animal) and how your organization has impacted their lives and experiences will show your mission in action. It’s a way to deliver irrefutable facts to your donors without slapping them in the face with a snoozefest of facts and figures. They’ll accept the truth and attribute a human face to a human need—and humans (we sure hope) will feel empathy. This also gives donors something they can relate to—something that will change the way they think about a cause or issue. You have to play a bit of mind games, because once they believe, they start to care. It revs them up and makes them advocates for your mission—and they’ve officially caught all the feels.
- Create social advocacy. Scroll through your social feeds: People LOVE sharing stories they love, stories they care about, stories that make them sad, stories that make them angry. If you tell the right story, people will talk about it and eventually share it. Take advantage of technology—it allows you to share your story quickly, and to a very large audience. And let’s be brutally honest—people will grab ahold of your mission and share with the world what a doggone do-gooder they are. #HumbleBrag
- Inspire action. This where the magic happens and your donors reach into their pockets and donate to support your mission. You might inspire further action and get people to take a stand and volunteer, attend one of your organization’s events or even getting out there and fighting for your mission beside you. But first, money. Please and thanks.
They say actions speak louder than words. In the case of nonprofit marketing, I’d have to respectfully disagree. Words are critical tools that we use to inspire people to take an action. Whether it’s to donate money, volunteer, advocate or even join an organization—words are the catalyst that drives change. That’s my story, and Shasta’s. We’re stickin’ to it.