Are You Using Storytelling in Your Nonprofit? Read This First.

I <3 Stories! We Love Stories

Human beings have been telling stories for 100,000 years. Over that time, storytellers discovered the best ways to convey their information so people would remember it. Today we call that “story structure.”

People everywhere, in cultures across the globe, are hardwired to use story structure to create meaning out of events. In the last few decades, we’ve collected ample scientific proof that our brains have evolved to respond to stories.

Which is why you’re hearing so much buzz these days about the importance of using storytelling in your marketing and communications efforts. And, done correctly, there’s no doubt that storytelling can be a powerful tool.

But is there ever a time when using a story isn’t appropriate?

Storytelling is not like boiling pasta

When you know using stories is good for your organization, it’s tempting to use them all of the time, no matter what.

But storytelling is not like cooking spaghetti, and if you find yourself tossing stories on the wall to see if they’ll stick, you’re probably doing it wrong.

Are your stories all about your organization? While telling your “origin story” can be an effective piece of advertising, it’s not much more than that. Your donors aren’t living in the past – they’re engaged in the here and now. They want to know what you’re doing that is so important and so aligned with their personal vision and values that they simply must give right this minute.

Are your stories only peripherally related to your organization? Some fundraisers or board members seem to think that as long as their communications tell a story – any story! – touching on the organization’s mission, that will be enough to draw in donors. But your donors don’t want to hear any old story…they want stories that reflect their vision of what the world can be and how your organization is making that vision come true.

Your Stories Should Embody Your Organization AND Your Donor

Donors respond to stories when those stories present shared values, a common vision for the future, and a strategic plan to make that future a reality. If your stories can’t do those three things, it’s time to find new stories.

After all, the ultimate goal of using Storytelling in your donor communications and fundraising is to weave a strong and stable connection between your donor and your organization. It is this bond that will keep your donor giving, year after year.

For more about the pitfalls – and benefits – of using storytelling in your marketing efforts, check out this case study for Levi’s.