Nonprofit Storytelling: 4 Challenges and Tips to Overcome Them

Nonprofits need to tell their stories. Storytelling, if done well, can easily encourage people to donate – which is what every nonprofit wants to do.  If you are the CEO in a small nonprofit or the development officer, you know it can be difficult to collect the stories from direct service staff for various reasons.

I would argue that nonprofits need to create a system for collecting stories.  This is not unlike systems you currently have for your nonprofit.  There is a system for processing gifts, updating your social media, putting together your annual appeal, and so forth. So, why not create a system for collecting stories as well?  If you do this it will help you coordinate and streamline your storytelling efforts, which can, in turn, help you with your fundraising efforts.

Here are the four most common challenges and corresponding tips to help you create a system for collecting stories and coordinating your efforts:

Challenge #1 – The senior leadership does not buy into storytelling. If your senior leadership is not all in, then it can be challenging to get staff to participate in storytelling and collecting.

Tip #1 – Train 100% of the staff on the importance of storytelling. You must customize the training to speak to different levels of staff.  Senior Leadership cares about the bottom line.  Show them the differences between fundraising programs that do and do not utilize stories. Draw on research and data from the nonprofit sector, that proves donors want more stories and accountability.  Host a facilitated training to share with the staff the importance of storytelling and give them the opportunity to tell each other stories.

Challenge #2 – The collections of stories are not a part of the nonprofit’s practices. For staff to develop a habit of story collections you must create the mechanisms so that collections become routine and staff are always on the lookout for a good story.

Tip #2 – Create tools and opportunities for staff to share their stories. The next time you have a staff meeting, take the first ten minutes and have a couple of staff members come up and share stories from their work. This makes it more of a priority for everyone and I am a true believer in what you focus on expands. Finally, create a story collection tool. I suggest setting up a google form or if you are more old school a paper form can work too. Whatever you choose, it’s important to send a monthly email to all staff to let them know what kind of stories you’re looking for, where they will be shared and when you need them by. This will help them maintain storytelling as a priority.  Don’t forget to also share with the staff how donors are responding to their stories.  This will encourage them and show them that the stories they submitted have value.  You can share the tools and opportunities during your staff training.

Challenge #3 – Staff doesn’t understand what makes a good story. When staff members don’t understand what they are supposed to be looking for, they don’t give you what you need.

Tip #3 – Correlate your storytelling calendar with your fundraising and marketing calendars.  This way you can let the staff know what types of stories you need and by when.  Make sure you give them clear directions, so it increases your chances of getting what you need.  

Challenge #4 – Our nonprofit does not want to violate our client’s confidentiality and privacy when using storytelling.

Tip #4 – Just because you’re obligated to follow privacy protocol, doesn’t mean your organization has to sacrifice telling a great story in the process.  Confidentiality and great storytelling can coexist. Nonprofits can use animation, silhouettes and/or tell the story from the perspective of a unique voice such as a basketball in a gym or bird migrating through a wildlife preserve.

I hope this helps. Your feedback is appreciated. Let me know your biggest challenge when it comes to storytelling or collecting stories.  Leave a comment below with your struggle and what you are doing to try to overcome it.

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