How to Effectively Tell Your Story

Once upon a time”

Do you remember how, as a child, these words made you sit still and listen with anticipation? As human beings, we are hardwired to be receptive to stories. Effective storytelling is not simply recounting a series of events.

Too many nonprofits don’t understand that the work you do cannot speak for itself—no matter how important it is. People will not see it in the same way that you understand it. You must first bring them into your world so they can experience it for themselves.

A good book has no ending.” – R.D. Cumming

When was the last time you read a book that you just couldn’t put down? Great storytelling engages the human senses and draws you into the story, making you feel like you’re in the characters’ shoes. Your goal is the same when telling your organization’s story. You can then take specific steps to transform the audience into active donors and supporters for your cause.

  1. Focus on the donor. Know the attitudes or feelings that people have toward your organization and its mission. It will help you to determine what stories will potentially resonate with your audience segments and inspire them to donate.
  2. Keep it simple. Eliminate buzz words or business jargon. Choose words that convey the most meaning for your unique message so you can use fewer sentences. This is especially important when communicating through social media. A well-written subject line or summary can spark interest for the reader to go to your website and read the full story.
  3. Images speak volumes. A thoughtfully selected picture that is specific to your story can go a long way to engage the senses and cultivate the emotions of the audience. Let the people in the photo know why you’d like to use it. If you can get them on board, they may even be willing to add a fresh perspective by telling their story.
  4. Be smart about numbers. There is a place for data in storytelling. It can help to paint a clearer picture of your mission’s impact. It can also succinctly state the urgency of your goals. Strategically used, data can effectively punctuate your story.
  5. Voice is everything. This is especially important in video. Depending on who is telling the story, some people may tune out. Choose someone to whom your audience will listen. Avoid the “talking head” who rambles on about the organization. Your story is about one person whose life was transformed by your mission.

Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.” – Chinese Proverb

Your nonprofit’s impact gains clarity, relevance and value when you’re able to inspire others to passionately tell their own stories. That is the true test for how effectively you’re leveraging the power of storytelling. With more voices supporting the mission, your nonprofit truly becomes a good book with no ending.

Pon Angara is Director of Barkada Circle®, a team of artists mentoring nonprofits on how to tell more compelling stories about their missions. Pon helps their leaders use the power of storytelling to spark bold and innovative ideas that will bring their organizations to the next level. He has delivered keynotes and workshops on storytelling at several association conferences and foundation seminars.  When he’s not working with stories, Pon searches for his next great foodie find! He’s always ready to take you to the best Filipino restaurants in Chicago.

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