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From the Vault: 4 steps to telling our untold, yet remarkable, stories

Originally posted August 4, 2015.

MagicIn the nonprofit sector we put our energy into making the world a better place. Our impact spans the horizon of life; from addressing health, cultural, and societal challenges to creating excitement, entertainment, and activities that bring us all together in community.

We are doing big, important work that impacts the lives of the people we serve, the people who volunteer to help us serve, and all other people who show up to help us make it happen (whatever ‘it’ is).

These stories deserve to be heard! And it’s up to us to tell them.

While we measure our impact as nonprofits, often we don’t know how to make the numbers interesting. We know it’s true that people take action on behalf of a cause when they feel emotionally connected, and yet we fumble in sharing our impact in exciting and emotionally relevant ways.

This may be because, as Andy Goodman puts it, “Even if you have reams of evidence on your side, remember: numbers numb, jargon jars, and nobody ever marched on Washington because of a pie chart. If you want to connect with your audience, tell them a story.”

So how do we tell stories better? Here’s four steps to telling our remarkable stories:

1. Let’s talk evidence.

Telling great stories only happens when you understand the data. A truly great story starts with research which is used as evidence to back up (and inspire) your story. This research could be from your own data you are collecting in outcome measurements or surveys. Or you can use even broader-based sector statistics, like you will find in the New Narrative.

Imagine Canada published the New Narrative in 2014 as a core resource intended to inform a new perspective on the roles and contributions of nonprofits and charities in Canada.

the narrative

In it you will find this and much more:

  • Data reflecting the breadth of the nonprofit sector’s work
  • Employment and volunteer statistics
  • Revenue and economic impact data

2. Let’s talk stories.

We have many tools in our hands (literally) to help us share our stories. After you have discovered a ‘golden nugget’ through your research, you can start to think about how that story could best be told.

Capacity Canada published Stories Worth Telling – an invaluable tool for nonprofits who need to tell their stories.

stories worth tellling

It goes into detail and has lots of tips about:

  • Finding your story
  • Collecting and analyzing stories
  • Preparing and capturing stories
  • Telling the story
  • And, most excitingly, creating a storytelling culture in your organization!

This is another free resources that has immense value and could be a perfect complement to the New Narrative in your storytelling strategy.

3. It’s actually about people first!

Remember, stories have the most impact when they tug at a person’s heartstrings. If you are looking for your audience to donate, volunteer or support your cause in anyway, a story that gives an emotional response is the most effective. Look at the data and find the ‘heartstrings tale’ for your organization that needs to be told.

People love to see themselves in other people. And the nonprofit sector is all about people: people who work in the sector, people who volunteer in the sector and the people who benefit, in whatever way, from the sector.

4. Switch it and reverse it.

So you have your evidence, your storytelling tool, and your personal angle – when you sit down to actually tell your story, begin with the person and end on the evidence. This might seem counter-intuitive, but evidence works best as back up to the emotional impact.

If you sit down to try these steps, let us know how it goes and share your story with us!

Katherine Topolniski
Volunteer Alberta

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