What is it about a great story that moves an audience to take action? My colleagues Seth Crawford and Cate McLeane have written two great pieces about the importance of telling stories about the people you serve and how to make them the hero of your nonprofit’s brand. I’d like to continue the discussion by providing a few examples of great stories and the characteristics that make them so compelling.
- Keep it real – Herman Melville’s Moby Dick is one of those novels that consistently appears on the lists of best books ever written. You likely read it in high school and maybe even studied it in a college literature class. What has made this book, written more than 150 years ago, a classic story that resonates with readers even today? I believe one of the key elements that makes Moby Dick so effective is that it’s based on the true story of the whaling ship Essex as told in the book.It’s often said that “truth is stranger than fiction.” I would argue that truth is STRONGER than fiction. When telling stories about your nonprofit’s mission and impact, keep it real. Take Curamericas Global, an organization committed to ending the unnecessary death of the world’s most vulnerable population — mothers and children. They don’t sugarcoat the challenges they face, nor do they exaggerate the impact they’re able to make with their efforts. They tell it like it is, and their donors and volunteers understand the enormity of the challenge but also the difference their work makes in the lives of children, women, and families around the world.
- Keep it simple – Some of the most beloved stories are also the simplest ones. Think Cinderella, Star Wars, and even Moby Dick. These stories are simple tales that captivate the reader, not confuse them. Cinderella tells a story of a girl, a prince, and a glass slipper. Star Wars is all about good overcoming evil. And Moby Dick is a story about a guy chasing a whale. Obviously, there are deeper themes in all of these stories, but the stories themselves are simple.What are the simple stories in your organization? One client, Baptist Children’s Home, has served children and the community for 132 years. It does a great job of telling simple stories of hope, change, and redemption in the lives of vulnerable children. The stories are easy to understand and digest.
- Talk about transformation – Cinderella went from maid to princess. Luke Skywalker grew from farmer to great Jedi knight saving galaxies. And Captain Ahab was transformed from victim to villain in Moby Dick. Stories that stick often include transformational experiences. Of course, not everyone can tell stories about saving galaxies, but it’s likely your organization transforms lives in some one way.Our client CORRAL Riding Academy works with hurting teen girls to help them heal from traumas like abuse, neglect, and loss. They tell amazing stories of how equine assisted therapy transforms lives. Girls come in broken, failing in school and even in trouble with the authorities, and they leave healthier, happier, and hopeful for their future. These stories helped move hundreds of donors to give $1 million to help CORRAL buy its farm and give it a forever home to continue to serve hurting girls.
- Always point to a greater purpose – We can’t end a discussion on great storytelling without talking about the greatest story ever told – the story of the Bible. The Bible’s narrative arc centers on the great rescue mission of Jesus Christ. Great stories point to a higher purpose. Continuing with CORRAL as an example, the organization’s stories don’t just talk about the girls they serve, but also point to the transforming power of God.Of course, not all organizations are faith-based, but even their stories can point to a greater cause. For example, Mosaic Development Group builds affordable housing in North Carolina. But they don’t just tell stories about buildings, their stories point to building communities that help neighborhoods flourish. In Mosaic’s stories, each home represents a changed life, not just a bunch of brick and mortar.
Every organization has a story to tell. Often, what separates one nonprofit from another are their stories. Are you telling great stories? If not, remember, to be authentic, keep it simple, make sure you’re telling stories of transformation and point to a higher purpose. You may not write the next Moby Dick or Star Wars but you will tell stories that move your champions to take action.
Looking for more insights and words of wisdom from nonprofit experts? Check out Angel Oak Creative’s Nonprofit Nuggets where we tap into the top talent in the field to dish out meaningful tips and advice.
– David Chatham, Senior Marketing Consultant