The Nonprofit Marketing Blog

Next Frontier of Storytelling in the Nonprofit Sector

Vanessa Chase HeadshotEditor’s note: This post was written by Vanessa Chase, founder of The Storytelling Non-Profit. You can check out more thoughts on storytelling on her blog. Or, if you’re in the mood to watch a webinar on storytelling, you can download the archived version of her Nonprofit911 webinar.

Storytelling is quickly becoming part of the everyday fabric of nonprofit fundraising and communications. While some might suggest that storytelling is simply the latest and greatest trend, much evidence suggests that it’s a fundamental type of human communication working its way into organizational communications. We are entering a new era where organizational communication will no longer be sterile, dry, and boring. Instead, it will sound human. This is the new standard that storytelling and narrative communications are bringing to our sector.

As we hit the ground running in 2015, I anticipate seeing a greater volume of storytelling from nonprofits. This probably comes as no surprise to you. More organizations of varying sizes and causes will hop on the storytelling bus. They will find unique ways to talk about their impact, great staff, and amazing donors. We will hear these stories through the written word, photos, videos, and more. A great many stories will be told online because of the range of formats available to tell them. Many online story platforms are considered to be more interesting and engaging than print.

What else can we expect to see in 2015? Here are two emerging trends that will likely come to the forefront this year.


Storytelling in Stewardship

Donor retention has been a hot topic over the past few years. It is a well-known fact that for many years, organizations were losing more donors than they were retaining. Last year, however, reports showed that the sector retention rates are on the rise. This can largely be attributed to organizations putting a greater emphasis on donor stewardship. Thank you notes, phone calls, and other little touches all add up. What’s more, stories are the perfect type of content to use in stewardship materials. They naturally illustrate impact and outcomes while connecting people through shared emotional experiences.

This year, I think we’ll see more nonprofits overturning conventional approaches to donor stewardship and utilizing stories as a key part of stewardship content. Union Gospel Mission uses stories in its newsletters to show donors how they make the organization’s mission possible. Rather than sharing a ton of dry statistics, the YMCA of Greater Vancouver uses stories in its annual report to talk about impact.

Storytelling in stewardship tip: Take a look at your current thank you letter. Look for the instances where you talk about impact and see if you can find a relevant story to include that will help donors visualize their gift in action.

Community Storytelling

One thing I value most about storytelling is that it communicates emotions and experiences in a way that helps people empathize with each other. This is how connections are made and communities are formed. Nonprofits are uniquely positioned at the center of many constituent groups and have the opportunity to facilitate storytelling between members of their community. Online or offline, donor or nondonor, it doesn’t matter where or who. What matters is that in these various places, we invite people to share their own stories. The benefit of this practice is creating stronger communities to which people truly feel they have a tie.

There are many examples of how organizations crowdsource community stories, which are then shared on websites and social media. The University of Arkansas’ annual giving program has a special landing page where donors can share their stories. The university then uses donor stories on its giving website. Here’s one example:

U of A Stories

Community storytelling tip: Reach out to your active social media followers and ask if they have a story they would like to tell. Encourage them to share a story about their passion for the cause or a personal connection they have to your mission. If you want to get the best stories, a phone conversation or in-person meeting is best.

These are just two storytelling trends we’ll see in 2015. With so many rapid changes in digital media, we’re bound to see even more exciting storytelling techniques emerge.

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Linda Lombardi
Content Manager

We’re here to help you win hearts and minds—and donations.

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