Successful Nonprofit Storytelling: Stay Humble

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.

As a program officer preparing a presentation for our board, I search for one answer:  “What is the common thread in the successful video nonprofit storytelling projects this board has funded?”  Some videos make an impact and some don’t.

I’ve tried hard to figure out the magic ingredient. Is it the filmmaker?  Is it the creative consultant or firm?  Are some topics just more inspirational?  And finally, the real difference between the winners and the losers floated to the top: humility.

Nonprofit directors—show us a story about a hero who overcomes barriers through your programming. We will understand that your organization was pivotal in the change.  And once we connect emotionally to a story, the portion of our brain tasked with decision making kicks into overdrive.  We want to give or to volunteer!

Children’s Mentoring Connection (CMC) has used short video storytelling with success in its campaign targeted to garner more mentors. Its remarkable results are a:

  • 125% increase in mentor inquiries
  • 800% increase in returned mentor applications
  • 400% increase in mentor matches!

Jennifer Swartzlander, CMC’s Executive Director, shared that the goal of the campaign is to allow the viewers “to feel like they can touch a mentoring relationship.”  One short mentor story entitled Dennis and Anthony shows men that being a mentor can be as easy as taking a child to Wendy’s every week. She’s Actually My Present showcases the poignant relationship that Deb and Chellsea share while baking brownies.  Both videos focus on the mentor/mentee relationship with the agency mentioned subtly at the close. Follow CMCofHancockCounty on YouTube to see the entire campaign.

So, what do all of the unsuccessful videos have in common?  In each one of the videos, the organization got in the way of the story.  They feature talking heads, jargon, data, and maybe a few disjointed shots of clients actually served by the nonprofit—too much focus on the staff and methods of service delivery. This kind of content is all about the organization rather than the people it serves, and doesn’t resonate with prospective donors and volunteers.

Nonprofit directors—if you want to use a video to gain more funds or volunteers for the people you serve; let the story of one person inspire us to help you fulfill your mission.  Just get out of the way and stay humble!

What is, or isn’t, working with your organization’s stories?  Share your successes and challenges here.

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