Engaging hearts and minds

Yesterday I experienced the equivalent of a “runner’s high,” except that my legs weren’t moving and my arms weren’t pumping. In fact, I sat very still and engaged my…ears. This wasn’t a calorie burning adventure; instead, it was an adventure of the mind.

I sat between two very inspirational nonprofit organizations during a session led by Perla Ni, CEO of Great Nonprofits, about the importance of great storytelling. Perla said, “The nonprofit sector is very fortunate when it comes to storytelling. You don’t need million dollar commercial budgets to create stories that make burgers or cars feel exciting. You are nonprofit organizations and you have many noble and compelling stories about the people and the causes you serve.”

Perla asked each of us to tell our own story to one another during a table exercise. While my mind spins and my pulse quickens when I can help a nonprofit leader with a helpful book or best practice on my website, my story was merely the warm-up act for the organizations that were at my table. On my left were Micklina and Mike with Community of Sudanese & American Women/Men, an organization dedicated to helping survivors of the Sudanese genocide, and on my right were Emily and Lisa with CASA Child Advocates, a nonprofit that gives a voice to children in court when neglect and abuse is involved.

Though each one of us has a compelling story to tell, there are specific strategies you can act on that will help it spread and grow. Here are some take-away thoughts from speaker, Perla Ni:

How to get started with integrating good storytelling in your organization from Demonstrating Your Impact: Engaging Hearts and Minds:

A good story will include a protagonist, a problem and overcoming the problem (sometimes, not overcoming the challenge).

Consider the personal stories you have about your organization’s impact from the perspective of an individual client, staff member, volunteer or member in the community.

Who tells the story is important: 90 percent trust product recommendations from friends, 70 percent trust recommendations from online consumer recommendations, (Nielson, 2009) and only 6 percent believe in advertisement claims (Forrester, 2009).

Think about how you can back up this story with data you have that relates to the program or setting where your story takes place. If you don’t have the data, engage a local university student who is interested in a research project.

If you have multiple programs about which you can share stories, choose two or three that highlight your strongest program. Those stories will eventually shed light on the other programs.

Develop those two or three stories and circulate them at the board and staff levels so they are shared consistently. Don’t be afraid of telling and re-telling on many platforms such as annual reports, brochures, email campaigns, and social media in particular because of networks’ potential, such as Facebook and Twitter, to spread your story more quickly and efficiently. Include photos and video whenever possible.

Listeners will need to hear a story, on average, eight times before they sink in. In cases where direct quotes are involved, do not correct grammar. The idea is to maintain the authenticity of the storyteller’s voice.

Though funders may limit proposals (i.e. foundations) to specific Q &A or data, use the site visit as an opportunity to share stories.

In the case of public policy, bring the storyteller to the legislative session if possible. If you don’t have a good storytelling prospect within your organization, enlist a peer organization for help.

See also:

Kivi’s Nonprofit Communications Blog for posts about storytelling

More information about Kivi’s book, The Nonprofit Marketing Guide, which includes a chapter on storytelling

Download an executive summary of Kivi’s book to learn more about what’s inside The Nonprofit Marketing Guide

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