Creating a Storytelling Culture in a Nonprofit

The nonprofit world treats stories as a form of currency. Unlike in traditional commercial establishments, buyers – donors in this case – don’t get anything material, neither service nor a product, in return for their money. What they do get is a story of impact and changed lives because of their support. The intangible becomes tangible through feelings of accomplishment, joy, and fulfillment ignited by heartwarming stories and messages from the beneficiaries.

Stories are like the head gasket of a Subaru car. If the gasket is faulty, the engine can overheat, and the car won’t be able to move. In the same manner, nonprofits won’t be able to proceed with fulfilling their missions if their material lacks the kind of flair donors are looking for. Building a story bank with all kinds of stories is one way to keep donors from all walks of life engaged and happy.

Sense of belonging

In order for fundraising to be sustained, it should go beyond mere transactional and delve into relationship building. Donors want to belong and feel included in an organization’s mission, clearly knowing how their support has helped people. Stories bring your supporters into their own hero story especially if you follow these four core fundraising narratives. You were able to slay a dragon – water shortage, domestic abuse, or poverty – in a certain community because the donor chose your organization to give their resources.

The human-centric approach of storytelling promotes better understanding and engagement compared to just feeding data and graphs. Nonprofit Tech for Good showed that 56% supported nonprofits because of good stories that motivated them to take action.

Building the culture

employees chatting

While most nonprofit employees agree on the impact of good stories, not everyone will prioritize getting them because of limited resources. There might even be a divide between fundraisers and field units. Getting your board members and executive director on board with the initiative should be the first step as they can influence other people in the organization. Prepare a pitch by outlining the benefits of storytelling in getting more donations and support it with data. The “everyone is doing it so we should also” reason is not going to cut it.

Asking good questions and being an avid listener is also effective in getting good stories. Do your research and think of the structure of your story before engaging with the program leads. What is the beginning, middle and end? How should the conflict be solved by the donor be portrayed? Arrange your questions according to the narrative to make it easy for your colleague to get the necessary messages across.

Concrete examples of how your donor reacted with inspirational stories can also help in motivating others to be on board. Be a model of how storytelling even within the organization can impact and change lives. You will also be building stronger connections internally that can make collecting stories easier the next time you need them.

It is part of human nature to have a preference for stories. They engage our brains and emotions which can make people more open to supporting a cause. Nonprofits will see their fundraising goals met when they put a premium on good storytelling.

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