Our mission is to…
We’ve impacted countless lives through our work…
Let me explain our newest program. Our data is telling us that…
Just stop. Before you’ve even gotten to your point, you’ll have already lost your audience, especially if communicating through social media or an email blast. Eyes are glazing over. Skepticism is mounting. And you haven’t even started.
So please. Just stop. Don’t make it about your organization. Make it ALL about the stories of your people.
At the end of the day, people don’t really care about programs or overhead or how good your pitch is. They care about people.
They don’t want to hear a canned description of your nonprofit. They don’t even want to hear that you have an 85% success rate. Data is important. But data alone doesn’t win over donors and supporters. An emotional connection does. And as TED speaker Brené Brown says, stories are simply data with a soul.
Too often I’ve attended nonprofit events in which the nonprofit has told no stories. Instead, the focus was on programs, impact numbers and empty platitudes. I’ve also seen a lot of nonprofits failing miserably on social media because all they do is post information about programming and upcoming events.
For those of you who like numbers, I recently started managing a client’s social media account that focused its posts on programming. These posts had an average reach of 747 people. So, I began weaving in stories, and guess what happened? The average post reach skyrocketed to 5,469. Talk about an increase!
Leverage Your People
It’s one thing to hear the executive director of a nonprofit tout it as an amazing agent for change. But hearing the first-hand account of a man who was rescued by that organization from a life of abuse and neglect is another.
I understand that the nature of some nonprofit work makes it difficult to tell stories and feature specific clients. However, in my experience, there’s always at least one person eager to share how the nonprofit has changed her life.
Take Project CATCH for instance. What if I told you it was the only organization in the area focused on homeless children? You’d think that was nice and forget about it five minutes from now. But what if I told you this story?
Stephanie Moore and her family were homeless. It’s hard to pinpoint one specific thing that got them to that point, but they were there all the same. Stephanie had to come up with a plan to keep her family safe. So she moved them into a cheap hotel. Stephanie, her husband and their five children lived in that one room for nearly a year.
The only place for the kids to play was the parking lot. And when they got too loud inside, Stephanie would have to guiltily hush them so they wouldn’t disturb their neighbors on the other sides of the paper-thin walls. “I hated telling them ‘no’ all the time,” Stephanie said.
When Stephanie’s oldest daughter’s school counselor referred the family to Project CATCH, it was the first time in a long time Stephanie felt hope. Project CATCH screened all of her children, provided each with resources specific to their needs and worked with the family to get them into a house of their own.
Do you see how much more powerful that simple story is? And the best part of all is that Stephanie volunteered to tell her story at several Project CATCH events because of how much she believes in the organization. No question those events delivered a higher impact.
If your organization is truly doing great work, there will always be people eager to tell the story of how their life was changed because of it.
The best way to become an organization that captivates prospects and donors through stories is to make storytelling part of your organization’s DNA. While financial investment in marketing and communications is a piece of this, there are many things you can do to collect and share stories on your own.
- Put a process in place that requires your direct service providers to record stories. This may necessitate an onboarding period, but eventually it will become second nature, and your organization will build up a vault of great stories to tell.
- Equip your board members and strongest advocates with note cards that include your organization’s three most powerful stories. This will embolden your board members to tell others about the great work your organization is doing, especially around appeals and campaigns.
- When reviewing programmatic reports and metrics, try to match a story to each number. If the numbers are revealing success, there’s a story to be told.
So, the next time you find yourself meeting with a major donor, posting on social media or speaking before a room of prospective donors, don’t waste their time. Tell a story.
– Seth Crawford, Digital Marketing Strategist