“A story is a fact, wrapped in an emotion that compels us to take an action that transforms our world.” – Richard Maxwell and Robert Dickman in The Elements of Persuasion
Starting in March, I will share more on how to write stories, but today we get down to the basics in case storytelling isn’t a priority at your nonprofit:
Why Stories Work
- Easier to remember. You may have a lot of facts and figures to share, but if you don’t have any emotional appeal to them, they won’t be remembered by most of your followers.
- Feed word-of-mouth marketing. Word-of-mouth marketing is trusted and very powerful. And since stories are easier to remember, they are easier to pass along. You want to share a good story with your friends or co-workers.
- Free! With the limited resources a lot of you are working with, isn’t it great to know you have a free but extremely powerful tool?
- Make us human. If you do more policy or technical work, you can easily lose the emotion needed to get someone to act. A really good story can bring it back to the human level.
- Emotional, and therefore inspirational. Whether you want someone to volunteer, donate money, or call their senator, you have to inspire them to act.
“Stories provide simulation (knowledge about how to act) and inspiration (motivation to act).” – Chip Heath and Dan Heath in Made to Stick
Check out the book Made to Stick for more!
Stories also work for nonprofits because they come in all shapes, sizes and forms. You don’t have to write a novel or be Shakespeare to use stories at your nonprofit. You can tell a story in an email, a brochure, or a single Tweet.
Plus, as a nonprofit communicator, you have great material to work with. No matter your mission, if you are trying to change the world, then you have stories to share. If you have trouble finding your stories, try these tips from 5 Steps to Discovering Great Stories for Your Organization (Even if You’re a Policy Organization):
- Write down some core, high-level messages about your nonprofit’s beliefs – the why behind your work.
- Come up with something specific your nonprofit has done that connects with one of the messages in #1.
- Brainstorm potential rough sketches of stories that might express this work (that will also resonate with your target audience/s).
- Talk with staff who work on-the-ground (or with on-the-ground partners) to see who they might know with a story along the lines of an idea in #3.
- Start talking with potential interviewees. See if their story connects with your nonprofit’s work and the audience/s you want to reach. If so, confirm they’re interested and then set up a time for a full interview.
Start looking for those stories and sharing them with the world!