Nonprofits Miss Opportunities When They Don’t Use Storytelling

By Nathan Young - Storytelling Consultant

Getting the message out for nonprofits is tricky. It’s not like its a simple product to sell. It’s an idea, a purpose, a mission. Nonprofits are generally working to help people, or society as a whole, and rarely can their success be measured with a simple profit/loss metric.

Yet many nonprofits do just that. They might focus on stats (like how many people they’ve served) in their attempt to promote themselves to gain new donors, but the stats aren’t what resonate with people.

I recently noticed a nonprofit promoting that they help send over 300 underprivileged students to college every year. That’s great… but what does it really mean? Did it mean that they just provided some basic after school tutoring that gave some kids enough boost to get into college? Or did it mean they worked intensively with the students to provide them with tools they might not have otherwise had access to? That could make a big difference! And what did they mean by underprivileged?

The reality is that most observers wouldn’t even register these questions. They would probably just forget the message completely. The stat might be a source of pride from within the organization, but for outsiders there’s nothing especially memorable or engaging about it at all.

If the organization were to utilize storytelling, they would probably take a different approach. Rather than focusing on the the number of students, they could zero in on specific examples of students they helped. What challenges did the student face? What did the organization do to help? How did the opportunity change the student’s life?

Through the example of one student’s story, the audience gets an up close picture on what exactly the organization does. The full breadth of benefits they bring to the community are easier for the audience to imagine when they just take that story and multiply by 300!

It can seem counterintuitive because naturally we want to give our audience a full picture of everything we do! Yet by zeroing in on one story to share, you do just that. It’s much easier for our audience to fill in the gaps of the picture we paint, rather than paint the picture from the laundry list we give them.

Want some help planning your own stories? I've got the perfect tool for you. Sign up below and I’ll send you my Story Planner Worksheet. It will walk you through the steps of crafting the important stories of your organization.