Human beings like stories. We are exposed to them from the moment we are born and learn how to connect with and learn from others through storytelling. Although everyone is not a natural born storyteller, everyone does have the ability to tell a good story if given the right tools.
Developing storytelling skills is essential for nonprofit fundraisers because the key is nothing more than telling a great story to your donors. People are more likely to convert from visitors to donors when there is a narrative they can follow and connect with. Here is a list of 8 tips we have compiled to get you started on your storytelling journey.
1. Hands on experience
Write what you know. This is one of the first pieces of advice any young writer is give and, it still applies to storytelling for nonprofits. You can’t tell an authentic story if you have never experienced some aspect of it. I’m talking to you, development team, it’s time to get involved.
There is a natural divide that exists between program and development staff at any nonprofit. You view each other with distrust, always thinking the other is doing less. But as a member of the development team you need access to the best stories which means a good working relationship with your program staff. Make it clear that you value the work that they do. Set up bi-weekly or monthly meetings to share stories about your work. This will give your team access to stories which appeal to donors and humanize the development team to program staff.
Attend volunteer events. Your development team should be required to attend a certain number of volunteer events each year. This allows you to experience first-hand what your organization does and get you some great stories.
2. Write with your ideal donor in mind
One of the first rules of storytelling is to know your audience. While you are creating content for many people, that content is being consumed individually. For your readers, your content isn’t generated for the masses, it’s created for them.
Use donor surveys and craft donor personas. Your donor personas represent those who give to your cause. A donor persona includes job title, average age, gender, communication preference and other important information that tells you who your donors are. Once you know who your donors are, write to them.
3. Impart your vision
When you are storytelling for your nonprofit your goal should never be “to raise money.” It’s not specific enough and doesn’t give you a story to tell.
Consider instead what the money you are looking to raise will be used for. Is it a specific project? Tell the story of that project and what impact it will have on lives.
If you need money for basic operational or administrative costs tell the story of what would happen if your organization wasn’t able to do the amazing work it does. For example, if your organization didn’t exist- would lives be affected? How many? In what way? Craft a story around this idea with donors as the heroes, the ones who make your work possible.
4. Present conflict and make your donors part of the resolution
If you read your story and realize there is no conflict, then it’s not a story; it’s a pitch. This is essential because the conflict in your story is the reason your organization exists. If your organization builds wells in rural Zambia when individuals already have access to clean drinking water, then your organization exists for no reason.
When crafting your story and thinking about your central conflict consider the following questions:
How does your organization address issues in your community?
What do you need to address this problem?
How much funding?
What exactly will the money do?
Who provides the money?
Who is the hero of the story?
Asking these questions will help you story tell in a way that appeals to your donors.
5. Create a sense of urgency
Your story should be time sensitive. You should make donors feel that there is only a limited amount of time to give and to help. Adding a deadline is one of the easiest ways to create that sense of urgency.
International Rescue Committee does an incredible job creating a sense of urgency in their story about the Rohingya population from the Rakhine state of Myanmar. This population is facing persistent violence in Myanmar with hundreds of thousands of refugees in need of basic services.
6. Use a variety of methods and channels
Sometimes we get locked into the idea that stories can only be written. But in many cultures, storytelling is still a mostly oral tradition and there are many different ways to express them.
Remember the section on “knowing your donors above”? Well, not all donors are going to want to read your stories. Some, especially younger donors, want to see videos, pictures, infographics.
Tell the same story in different ways and see if one method yields different results. Stay creative and agile because storytelling is a fluid art.
The example above from malala.org shares Malala’s story in an interactive timeline,which integrates many different storytelling mediums from image to video to text. It is dynamic and easy to follow.
7. Inspire others to share their stories
Most people are more likely to connect with a story when it is autobiographical. This may not be applicable if your organization doesn’t work with people, but if it does, get the people you serve to tell their own stories. Interviewing people about their own experiences creates a more authentic story and allows your donors to connect to what you do on a more emotional level.
If you don’t work with individuals get donors to tell their stories. People like hearing from others who have given before because it legitimizes giving and provides them with realistic expectations about where their money will go and how to give.
8. Litmus test your story
You want to test your story before you send it out to the world. The best advice I have heard on this topic is to litmus test your story at the dinner table. If it doesn’t perform well there, then it isn’t good enough.
This also tells you how simple your story should be. How much do you hate it when someone monopolizes the conversation at the dinner table with a story that takes 15 minutes but could have been told in 5? Don’t be that person. You will bore and alienate your donors.
Great fundraising is great storytelling. Every great nonprofit fundraiser will tell you the same thing. If you want to boost donations, then further developing your storytelling skills is the best way to make it happen.
Just remember, you tell stories everyday and you have been telling them since you had the ability to speak.
If you want to read even more on the subject The Storytelling Nonprofit is a great place to start. Happy storytelling!
Emma Wolfe is the Communications and Partnerships Manager at Elevation, a full-service nonprofit web design agency. Emma has been involved in the nonprofit world for years working at multiple NGOs located both in the United States and abroad. Her experience ranges from refugee occupation counseling to empowerment programs for youth in West Africa. When she isn’t traveling Emma loves doing yoga and trying new food.