storytelling

Sometimes we have so many strong stories available that it’s hard to select the best ones to feature in a specific campaign. At other times, it seems impossible to source the right story or find a fitting one to harvest from the story bank. I’ve been there.

Luckily, there’s a proven, two-step solution to both problems:

  1. Pinpoint what your people need to understand about your organization’s focus (problem or cause), and about your solutions and impact.
  2. Select or find a story that provides those answers.

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Does the protagonist of your story know what she’s getting into—how you’ll use her story, and the risks are of sharing it? Probably not, if you’re like most communicators. Let’s change that.

Organizations like ours—that share stories regularly to activate our people—wield power and influence. When a protagonist lends us her story to share, she opens herself up to curiosity, criticism, misunderstanding, and sometimes even physical harm. It is our responsibility to respect those whose stories we share, ensuring they 1) are comfortable with the way we use their stories and 2) stay safe.

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Best Buddies International

Like many of you, I’ve been working with storytelling for more than a decade now. And, like many of you, I know we need to do it better.

We use too many over-simplified stories—black-and-white stories that don’t ring true. Stories that are all about us, don’t have relevance to our supporters, or don’t map to our organizational identity. Stories that leave the reader or listener thinking “so what.”

That’s a real waste of our supporters’ and prospects’ time and attention. In fact, it’s alienating. Telling one-offs or weak stories like these makes your people feel you don’t understand or care about them. That means they’re less likely to stay engaged and provide the help you need. There’s a better way.

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When you gather compelling stories—about beneficiaries, donors, or volunteers, or other players—to share in campaigns, thanks, and other communications, you gain a powerful complement to your data and anecdotal understanding of the people you want to engage. Together, these insights forge a shortcut to engaging hearts, minds, and wallets.

But it can be tough to source the right stories. Stories Worth Telling, a useful guide from the Meyer Foundation, reveals a damaging disconnect in the way organizations collect stories. Almost universally, organizations rely on program staff knowledge and relationships to gather stories, though the department overseeing the storytelling process is typically fundraising (54%) or communications (42%). Yikes!

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Dear Nancy: I saw how stories about our clients—powered by a photo or two—fueled our last two year-end campaigns. They were highly successful and I planned to feature the same kind of profiles this year.

That plan changed radically last month when our social workers urged us to put our clients’ privacy first and stop using client photos. Our staff has agreed to respect their expertise and honor their request.

What are some practical alternatives I can put to work in these last few weeks? And how do I move forward with client photos in the future, as our stories aren’t as strong without them?

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Connect to convert: Nonprofit communications

Let’s be real: Your organization is one of the many that can’t use kitty or puppy photos to raise money or recruit volunteers.

In Part One of this mini-guide, I shared my take on why such emotional candy works so well to raise money or recruit volunteers. And cited a reliable litmus test for photo-story impact—1) If you’d share them with your family and friends; 2) would they “like” or share them.

But you can make emotional connections with your target audiences, even WITHOUT kittens and puppies.

In fact—if your organization is not an animal rescue or another organization directly related to puppies, kitties or babies—these alternatives are far more effective in helping your forge connections and motivate your audiences to give, register or volunteer. Most importantly, they are authentic, relevant messages, rather than manipulative click-bait.

Here are two tested methods, with examples:

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RedRover

Part Two

Adorable! Few of us can resist photos like this one, which is why you see so many organizations communicating cute.

But if your organization doesn’t have piglet or puppy photos to share, what can you do? Assess what makes these photos so magnetic, then share some of that.

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Visual StorytelingWhen executed well, visual storytelling cuts through the clutter, delivering  a mental image that resonates and is remembered (so more likely to be repeated).

Take this unforgettable example from MAMA (Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action). I couldn’t look away, but instead lingered on the image, taking in the different women and their range of expressions. Most importantly, the photo quickly and memorably conveys not only what MAMA does, but how—improving health through educating and supporting moms via mobile messages. That’s a tough concept to get in a flash, but this photo says it all.

You can do it too! When you have your message hat on, keep an eye out for the image that says it all, and ask and train your colleagues to do the same. You’ll know it when you see it (or get a vision of what set up will be unforgettable), just like the  MAMA folks did.

BTW, MAMA does great here on the relevance scale as well, leading linking this visual story with International Women’s Day (coming up later this week).

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More on Visual Storytelling

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Yes you can—Find, Shape & Share Stories that Activate Your Supporters. Join me on October 1 in NYC. But register right now. Just a few seats remain.

In the competition for attention, connection and action, CHOOSING WHAT TO TALK ABOUT and HOW is one of the most powerful marketing methods your nonprofit has. But many organizations leave this game-changer undeveloped or overlooked altogether.

That’s where the right stories come in, and they have far too much potential to ignore! So don’t . Instead…
Join me for this intensive (but totally fun!) hands-on workshop, Wednesday, October 1 in New York City. In just three hours, you’ll finish with a draft story ready to use, and the skills and tools to create more!

Register right now. Just a few seats left.
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Flickr: Zennie AbrahamWhen I heard that Maya Angelou had passed away this week, I was saddened, humbled and hugely appreciative.

Unlike most writers (especially poets and memoirists) or activists, Dr. Angelou made herself and her perspective accessible and relevant to all. She did so by shaping her writing around the same sensations and feelings each one of us experiences, bridging the gap between her life and point of view, and ours:

Human beings should understand how other humans feel no matter where they are, no matter what their language or culture is, no matter their age, and no matter the age in which they live. If you develop the art of seeing us as more alike than we are unalike, then all stories are understandable. (via Harvard Business Review)

There’s so much I learned from Angelou, so many ways and times she inspired me. Today, I want to share her storytelling secret sauce with you…

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