How to Tell A Compelling Nonprofit Story: Part 1 (#12NTC)

Last week I had the joy of participating in #12NTC (the 2012 NTEN—Nonprofit Technology Network—Conference), with so many incredible peers in the nonprofit sector. I learned a ton, from one-to-one conversations and from the formal sessions, and will be sharing those insights and guidance out with you over the weeks to come.

Four storytelling superstars and I jointly presented Say It in Pixels: Visual Storytelling in the 21st Century (12NTCSIIP). Cara Jones of Storytellers for Good and I kicked off with some must-dos for every successful story, narrative or visual:

  • Why stories work: NTC keynote speaker Dan Roam said it best—stories are a memorable way to convey the essence of the challenge, issue or our impact or ask.
    • Our mission statements tend to fall short in their capacity to be compelling and cause that “lean forward” moment. Sometimes the personal story does what the mission statement cannot.
    • Stories are also easy to remember and repeat.
  • What makes people lean forward for more of the story:
    • The time-tested story arc with a clear beginning introducing the characters/people and the challenge, middle where the leads are sent out into the world and face the challenge head on, ending with resolution and a resonant conclusion.
    • Aiming for the heart, so you engage your audiences at an emotional level first.
    • People/characters that people can identify with.
    • A way that listeners/viewers can help resolve the challenge (as a donor, citizen advocate, volunteer).

Cara also shared a clear and doable framework for presenting people/characters that folks will connect with:

  • Let characters lead: Whittle the big picture down to one or two people. When we tell the stories of the masses, we lose the emotional connection and are overwhelmed with the hopelessness of the challenge.
  • 4 G.O.A.L.s in identifying the people who will be featured in your story: 
    • G = Genuine: People who can talk honestly about the struggle.
    • O = Outgoing: A high energy level comes off as moderate energy on camera.
    • A = Articulate: Able to tell (or be) a good story.
    • L = Lively.

What makes your nonprofit’s stories work, or what’s getting in the way? Please share your guidance or roadblocks here.

P.S. Get more peer guidance on strengthening your organization’s stories with our no-charge   2012 Nonprofit Marketing Wisdom Guide,

Nancy Schwartz in storytelling | 7 comments
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