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/.

Get Your Horns On 2014: Inspiration and Perspiration

Get Your Horns On 2014 It has now been a week since my return to St. Lawrence College for the fall semester and honestly…it has been a blur. As a matter of reflection, I want to write a few words about my experience coming back to the School of Business for Year 3, and the best tool to explain how I feel is my experience with the 2014 edition of our Get Your Horns On fundraiser.

For those who know nothing about this fundraising drive, it involves the mobilization of most of the School of Business and the sale of MANY horned Viking hats. The money raised goes to the college’s Business Student Initiative fund, which allows business students to take part in special projects, as well as directing money to other worthy causes such as KIVA, TEDx, and the Ryan Taylor bursary. You can find out more at the link above.

I have to admit that as a 3rd year student, I did not experience the same verve and drive this time around. I have a distinct memory of having my competitive juices flowing freely last year, and I think this is a phenomenon shared by many upper year students. This does not mean that I (or others) see the fundraiser as any less a worthy activity, but I felt myself being far more concerned with sorting out my student loans, class schedule, and figuring out my lifestyle logistics for the busy final year that we have been promised by the faculty.

I recognized my lack of inspiration for GYHO from Day 1, so instead of forcing the issue I tried to draw upon my love for volunteering by playing more of a cheerleading and helping role for the Orientation Leadership. Roughly speaking, this means that I took my joy from handing out helmets and encouraging the first and second-year students to put their best foot forward.

In the end, my fundraising totals were far below last year, but I eventually did find great inspiration in the ingenuity and work ethic of our new business students. The blurry picture above was a team that became especially notable to me because they were able to pull together an incredible amount of donations, gift cards and swag from local businesses in the span of 2-5 hours. From my perch in the Student Association lounge, watched them make many phonecalls on that first day and simply could not believe the kind of community support they were able to drum up in an afternoon.

Impressive as that was, the team above did not take home the grand prize. That went to another group of new students who became recognizable to me because I met all five of them selling helmets downtown at 9PM on Wednesday night. If you are willing to sell helmets downtown in the dark, you are showing the perspiration necessary to do very well in our School of Business…So they really must be congratulated for that, as well as for inspiring my pride in our student body.

Thanks again to all of the teams for their hard work. Thank you to the faculty for giving their time and energy. Thank you to our amazing Orientation Leadership in Emily and Beth for bringing it all together. Now…if I can only memorize my fall schedule, then maybe this year will turn out just fine.

~DJB.