5-Star Storytelling Success Story

juliebrownGuest blogger, Julie Brown, Program Director at the Findlay-Hancock County Community Foundation. Julie is intrigued by storytelling, and the opportunity it offers to inspire donors and volunteers to act.

Barely a year ago, one of my co-workers, Lisa Houck, and I were happy to spend a day together at a Nancy Schwartz training called “How to Tell Five-Star Stories.”   Lisa and I share content management duties for the Findlay-Hancock County Community Foundation Facebook page.

Other than a hazy wish hoping for additional Facebook followers, we had no specific goals.  Each day, we decided what our followers needed to hear and then we used Facebook to broadcast it to them. And we thought we were pretty good at it!

On the training day, we were proud to have 408 Facebook followers.  One year later, our Facebook insights look different:

  • 1,145 Facebook Followers
  • Average 30% Engagement Rate
  • Awarded the Gold Award for social media from Fundraising Success magazine

So what changed?

On the car ride home from “How to Tell Five-Star Stories,” we agreed to apply the lessons learned to our work.

First we focused on goals:

  • Build trust.
  • Cultivate Foundation’s next generation of donors (women age 45-54).
  • Engage Facebook followers to share the Community Foundation story.

Next we chose three types of stories to tell:

  • Impact stories:  highlighting how agencies use Community Foundation grants to change our world.
  • Stories of our people: celebrating grantee agencies, donors, and staff.
  • Strength stories:  detailing the community change created by the Community Foundation.

A Facebook post about one of the Foundation’s impact stories:


And then the real fun started as we began to experiment with the best ways to tell our stories!

Here is our current recipe:

  • Conversational: We used to preach our message; now we listen to what our followers like to create future content.
  • Celebratory:  We lift up the work of our neighbors.
  • Visual:  Most of our posts feature a picture; some are candid shots, but we have also budgeted for a photojournalist to create photo essays.
  • Data free:  We tell stories without boring data.

And, we will even share the spices that put the special zing into our recipe:

  • Videos:  Our videos follow the classic hero script to connect with our followers: a loveable protagonist who overcomes obstacles to complete a powerful transformation.
  • Series of Posts:  For important stories, we use a series of related posts spread across a week or longer.
  • Real Time Posts:  During breaking events, we have posted in real time, even becoming a surrogate news source for our community.

A Facebook video post from the FHCC Foundation:


Going forward, we are unsure what impact the increased Facebook emphasis on pay-to-play marketing will have on our engagement levels.  In preparation, we have doubled our Facebook marketing budget for 2014 and will continue to research other social media channels.  We currently feel stymied because our geographical market has low Twitter usage.

See more examples of our Facebook posts here.

So, what’s your secret recipe for five-star storytelling? Please share your tips and techniques here.

P.S. Get more nonprofit marketing guidance plus in-depth case studies, templates and tools via the Getting Attention blog & e-news. Subscribe today

Guest Blogger on March 13, 2014 in storytelling | 9 comments
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  • Gina Knudson

    Thanks for sharing your recipe with us! Congratulations on getting such great results!

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  • I agree with Gina. Great, er, story Julie! I’d be curious to know whether your time or number of staff dedicated to communications changed at all. I’m currently working on a piece about a client I’m helping to distribute the content generation load across their team. Being shorthanded, we’re finding that it’s necessary to recruit others to the cause. Thanks!

  • Lance, our staffing levels did not change. We have one full-time communications officer. As program director, I did assume a more active role in content management. Since I hear the success stories through grantee meetings and reporting, it makes sense to have me quickly write the post rather than relay it to someone else to write.
    Lance, recruiting a storytelling team makes great sense. We count on our staff, grantee agencies, and local media to help us tell stories. I have been surprised by how intuitively good some partners are at content generation while others seem to struggle with the concept.
    Good luck!

  • Julie and Nancy,
    Thanks so much for sharing your learnings and wisdom. The “recipe” you share is undoubtedly incredibly valuable as a learning tool for others. I’m curious: do you see the organization shifting emphasis away from Facebook in the coming year at all? You mention researching other channels and budgeting for increased ads on Facebook, so I am wondering if you wouldn’t mind sharing your thinking about the decision to research other channels. Thanks!

  • Nancy Schwartz

    Debra, thanks for opening up such an important discussion. Facebook is definitely taking a direction that I think doesn’t serve most nonprofit organizations well—its algorithm for what is served up is now based greatly on the number of ads bought by a particular brand.

    I’m recommending that my client orgs don’t invest in Facebook at this point unless they have built a community there that is delivering concrete value (in revenue, as advocates or otherwise) right now.

    What are you recommending to nonprofits on this front, Debra?
    And Julie, would love to hear your thoughts as well!

  • Julie Brown

    Debra, we will closely monitor local activity on different media. In our little corner of the world, Facebook still seems to be the place to stay. Once we see the usage rates changing, we will revisit that decision.

  • Julie, wondering what’s in your Facebook “usage rate” formula: Views, likes, shares or….? Thanks.

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