6 Story Types to Tell: Nonprofit Storytelling #2

Nonprofit Storytelling #1-9

There’s so much content around on storytelling, lots of its focused on why stories are so effective.

But there’s far less guidance on helping you know what your story possibilities are, and building your skills in shaping and sharing your stories. That’s what most of you said you wanted to know to become 5-star storytellers, and that’s the focus of this series.

Storytelling starts with finding the stories your organization already has. But, most of you tell me you don’t know where to find your stories. Here’s how..

Great news here—there are 6 types of stories you can tell, and you’re likely to find all of them in your organization. So start thinking about what stories you have to tell in each of these categories:
  1. Our Founding: How your organization was created
  2. Our Focus: The core challenge you tackle
  3. Impact Stories: This most-told nonprofit story features the before and after—shows impact of your organization and supporters
  4. Our People: Donor, staff, volunteer, client/participant profiles
  5. Strength Stories: How your particular approach adds value to the services you provide, and moves your mission forward
  6. Our Future: The change you want to make in the world or what your work will lead to.

I’ll be digging into each story type over the coming weeks, and for each one I’ll define its key elements and explain how to use it for greatest impact, with examples. Keep posted!

P.S.  If you’re interested in becoming a 5-star storyteller, please email me here. I’ll be introducing a storytelling e-clinic early this spring, and want you to be the first to know. Thanks!

Hat tip to Andy Goodman.

More Storytelling Guidance for You
Part 1: This is Getting in Your Way, Stories Will Help
Part 2: Six Story Types to Tell
Part 3: How to Tell Your Founding Story
Part 4: How to Tell Your Focus Story
Part 5: How to Tell Your Success Stories
Part 5 1/2: How to Tell Your Strength Story
Part 6: How to Tell Your People Stories
Part 7: How To Tell Your Future Story: Nonprofit Storytelling
Part 8: Shape Stories to Motivate Action
Part 9: How Story Trumps Description

Nancy Schwartz on January 16, 2013 in storytelling | 2 comments
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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 David Hartstein January 17, 2013 at 10:05 am

Thanks for the post Nancy. Definitely agree there is far more information out there on “the why” as opposed to “the how” of effective storytelling. I really like the six types of stories you outline here. We’ll be sharing it later today via Twitter (@wiredimpact).

I think it’s also important to point out that impact stories can (and often should) be told directly from the perspective of those that are benefitting from an organization. Demonstrating an unfiltered account of the tangible benefits to the community can create a poignant depiction of the specific ways a nonprofit is creating change in the world. While harder to pull together than a story from the perspective of nonprofit staff, the benefit can easily be worth the time spent.

I’m looking forward to your future posts on each type of story. Thanks again for sharing.

2 Wes January 18, 2013 at 11:47 am

Thought you might find a couple links that I ran across this week interesting.

First, 8 storytelling tips from Kurt Vonnegut can be found here: http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2012/04/03/kurt-vonnegut-on-writing-stories/. For most non-profits, I believe the most valuable one on that list is #2: “Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.” Why #2? Because it is the single most direct way to truly engage someone in the story of any non-profit. Focusing on a single character, rather than the organization, makes the cause human rather than institutional. People care much less about institutions than they do about other people. And non-profits have great characters within their communities: direct beneficiaries and donors, obviously–but also staff, faculty, parents, rescued animals, indirect beneficiaries (I’m thinking here of, for example, a business that recently hired a beneficiary of a community education program.). The challenge is obviously taking the time to find, collect and write the stories of those interesting characters.

Second, Vonnegut’s discussion of story arcs here http://www.laphamsquarterly.org/voices-in-time/kurt-vonnegut-at-the-blackboard.php?page=all. I don’t necessarily think that non-profit stories can follow any particular formula for their story arcs, but I do believe that being mindful of the arcs of your stories pays off. A story with an interesting arc can get away with being written imperfectly. People will sometimes even pay close attention to complex, confusing stories so long as they are interesting.

Just some thoughts I’ve had rolling around my head this week regarding stories. Hope they can be of use to someone!

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