Nonprofits have gotten really good with numbers. I don’t know about you but when I hear a lot of facts and figures my mind starts to wander. My eyes glaze over and, despite my best efforts, I can’t retain much.
And forget about being able to tell someone else the great numbers I heard.
It’s human nature for us to remember and repeat a good story. Think of fairy tales, they’ve been told for hundreds of years, yet there’s a new version of Cinderella out in the theaters right now!
As a nonprofit leader you need to find more and more people who care about your organization. They will be your volunteers, advocates and donors. Those relationships begin with a story (share those great numbers after you’ve won their hearts).
Becoming a good storyteller is your key to engaging more people.
Stories inspire caring and caring leads to giving. Follow these steps to create stories that move others to care about you and your vision. With a little practice great storytelling will come naturally.
- Explore your passion. The more you understand why you care about your work the easier it becomes to share it. Consider people, events and circumstances throughout your life that shaped your values and brought you to do the work you do.
- Get personal. Emotions are a natural part of a personal story – but you don’t need to fake tears! When it’s real and personal everybody gets the emotion – the humor, the joy and the sadness or fear you’ve experienced. It’s those emotions that make us remember.
- Connect your story to the story of your organization. Explore both the present and the history. Know the founder’s story; most organizations started in response to a great need at that point in time. How has that changed and grown? Try to deconstruct your Vision statement to get right to the heart of WHY your organization exists – that’s what stays consistent and it’s what engages people! (Save the “What you do” and “How you do it” for later when they already love you.)
- Tell your own fairy tales. Fairy tales – and most other stories in books, movies and TV – follow a simple formula. It goes like this:
Once upon a time…Unfortunately…Thankfully…Happily ever after
We naturally follow the emotional ups and downs of a story. Invariably, something goes wrong and along comes a hero (your organization?) to solve the problem.
- Know what you want. What does “Happily ever after…” look like for your organization? Knowing this helps you choose the best story and the right message. When you reach the end it should be clear WHY your organization exists. The emotional brains will kick in and they’ll be ready to follow you (and maybe even listen to the numbers).
- Paint a picture. Your story should include enough details to make it easy to visualize. Names, ages, places and other easy-to-grasp details like weather help to make your story engaging.
- Keep it simple. A great story is easy to follow. Side stories add confusion instead of painting the picture. Think of it as pulling a single thread that is running through a rich tapestry of stories. Often repeated stories of heroism, redemption or innovation become streamlined, that makes them more compelling and easier to repeat. You can see this in a movie that focuses on one aspect of a person’s life.
- Repeat. Great storytellers repeat their story. You’ll get better at telling it as you go. And, believe it or not, people want to hear your story!
- Gather stories. Now you are ready to spot other great stories in your organization. Ask others to tell their story, then listen carefully, you’ll hear stories that you can use and share.
- Create sharing opportunities. Adapt your story to social media, video and your website. Create Story Hours; invite people to come and get to know you and learn about your organization and why it exists.
Merle Benny wants to hear your story! Her blog, Nonprofit Champion, is a resource for fast track nonprofit leaders. She’s smart, creative and driven to help organizations reach their vision. As a partner at Thinc. she has provided marketing and branding services to nonprofit organizations and managed events that raised millions of dollars to support their work.