Storytelling for your Nonprofit: Best and worst practices

Image credit - Fresh Air Photo from www.storytellingcenter.net
Image credit – Fresh Air Photo from http://www.storytellingcenter.net

I’d like to start by thanking readers for the positive responses to my last piece. I had suspected that writing about marketing for Nonprofits might be a niche where I can contribute, and you verified that suspicion with your encouragement through email and social media. With that in mind, I am going to stay on the topic of Nonprofits – this time with more attention to the tactics used to communicate the value of your organization to the public.

I am currently taking a Content Marketing course as part of my graduate program at St. Lawrence College, and our focus for the past few weeks is on the role of storytelling in content marketing campaigns. So, I set about hunting for blogs and articles that apply this concept to Nonprofit marketing, and there is no shortage of blogs with hints and tricks. I’m going to share some of the highlights (for me), but if you are playing a Fundraising or Communications role in a Nonprofit, I will recommend that you go ahead and make the search for yourself…after you’re done reading, of course.

The first article I am going to highlight is Why Nonprofits Need to Be Storytellers. This piece is done in an interview format, which I find easy to digest through the separation of topics. However, the primary reason I chose this one is because before you figure out the ‘How’ to execute a concept, you need to ask ‘Why’. Here is an excerpt that gets to the heart of the matter:

We have stories in our brains about how the world works. And they act like filters. They act like software. The stories tell us what facts to accept and what facts to reject. So whenever you’re trying to influence someone’s behavior, you have to ask yourself first, “What story is in their brain? What stories are they holding onto that make them behave the way they do? And if I want to change that, you need to ask yourself, “What new story can I give them?”

The interview ends with a couple of solid examples of how storytelling helped contribute to a couple of successful Nonprofit campaigns – which makes for a good transition to best practices. There are a lot of articles out there with tips to help you tell stories for Nonprofits. The article I would like to highlight is ‘Nonprofit Storytelling: Seven Tips for Sharing Stories About Your Work. I chose this article because the site itself looks like it could be a useful tool, and the post is quick and streamlined list that got me thinking about ways that I could tell better stories for the organizations that I am involved with. This is especially true for Tip #7:

The best stories are told by the person themselves. Clients telling their own stories are the most moving way to share how your organization makes a difference.

This kind of storytelling is the most prevalent in politics, where testimonials and personal recommendations mean so much. If someone tells a story about how a representative/party was willing and able to listen and respond to their issues, it means so much more than if I am simply self-promoting. Unfortunately, I also came to the realization that with my work as the Fundraising Chair for Kingston Community House, I had (so far) completely missed the opportunity to let our members tell the story of our value to the community. It’s a mistake that I hope to change ASAP.

Some honest and thoughtful reflection is a must when you are part of a volunteer-based organization, and I recommend that you set aside a block of time to do this after any event or campaign. However, I think we could all benefit from avoiding those mistakes in the first place, so I will leave you with ‘9 Storytelling Mistakes Your Nonprofit May Be Making’. The most significant point on this list is 7) Silo-ing the Storytellers. It is very easy to forget that the role of collecting and telling stories belongs to all volunteers and workers in an organization. Please remember: Sometimes your Fundraising Chair feels horribly alone with the task.

I’ll leave you with some video content, so you can see how Nonprofit storytelling works through that medium. I hope that the articles here helps you to start planning your next Nonprofit campaign with an eye towards telling stories in a more effective way. As always, I would love to hear from you if you found this information helpful, or if you have some hints or mistakes that weren’t covered here. You can contact me through the comments or through any of my social media accounts in the sidebar.

Your Nonprofit work is important. Keep fighting the good fight. ~~DJB.

**For more examples of video storytelling, go to http://www.socialbrite.org/2011/04/21/8-great-examples-of-nonprofit-storytelling/.

Starting a nonprofit in Ontario: First steps

I consider myself something of a rarity (novelty?) in the School of Business at St. Lawrence College in that my motivation has always been more geared towards marketing in the nonprofit and public sectors vs. the private sector. This is largely due to my personal politics, but I have also come to believe that the nonprofit sector desperately needs an influx of marketing expertise and support, and I want to do my part to help fill the gaps – especially for my local community.

There are so many organizations in Kingston, ON that are working hard to serve the people of this community, but we are at risk of losing those services if we don’t help them to strategically plan for their activities, growth, and survival. The lack of expertise is largely due to funding constraints and small budgets for nonprofits, which means that career opportunities are minimal. Many nonprofits are staffed and managed by volunteers – as much by necessity as by design – and the skill sets of those volunteers (no matter how willing) does not often include strategic planning and marketing communications on a professional level.

Thankfully, there are some resources out there for organizations if you know where to look. More than that, I believe that marketing resources for nonprofits are increasingly available online due to the need mentioned above – fueled by increased access via digital and social media. These supports can range from basic videos like the one below, to web hubs for the sector.

I was recently approached by a community activist from Napanee who wanted to start a nonprofit that provided free bicycles to those in need in her region, and she really had no idea how and where to start. During our consultation, it was obvious that she is clearly an intelligent and hard-working volunteer with leadership abilities. She simply needs a helping hand from someone with experience, and some tools to help her navigate the process.

Even as someone with 8 years with Kingston nonprofits, it took a bit of thoughtful searching to figure out the most A/necessary B/practical and C/accessible resources to help her start the process. In the end, I gave her the following four links:

Image credit: sectorsource.ca
Image credit: sectorsource.ca

Sector Source connects charities and nonprofits with resources that help develop organizations and support the work you do for your communities.

Source credit: www.charityvillage.com
Image credit: http://www.charityvillage.com

Charity Village communicates employment opportunities and resources for the Canadian nonprofit and charity sector.

Ontario Nonprofit Network (ONN) – News, policy and resources for the nonprofit sector in Ontario

Ontario’s Not-for-profit Act – The legislative framework for nonprofits in the province of Ontario

This is just a starting point for a new organization, and I recognize that the information on these sites is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the tools and resources needed by nonprofit volunteers, boards, and community leaders. I would love to hear from other marketers and those with nonprofit experience if you have better examples or other easily available resources. Please feel free to contact me through the comments, or through any of the connections in the sidebar navigation.

~~DJB.