See how nonprofits and associations can further their missions by telling great stories.

Since 2020, 35% of people in the world have read more books, and the number of streaming service subscriptions from companies like Netflix and Hulu passed 1 billion worldwide for the first time.

What does this tell us? That, more than ever, people love reading and/or watching a great story. And, sure, it also reminds us that we were all trapped inside waiting out a pandemic. Still, I think it’s telling that in times of crisis, when comfort and certainty were in short supply, we turned to stories. 

Consumer brands long ago discovered that the desire to read a good story and connect with characters drew customers to certain initiatives and even contributed to selling more products. But does this success in the consumer world translate to nonprofit storytelling?

The challenge of nonprofit storytelling

This question has been asked by many in the nonprofit sector, and for a while, it seems like there was some skepticism. I think that it’s because, if done poorly, using storytelling to further a brand, a product or a mission can feel inauthentic. And association and nonprofit members seem to sniff out the fake and phony more than other types of audiences. 

But over the past five years or so, nonprofits have realized that they actually have some of the best stories to tell! We’ve seen a growing interest in nonprofit storytelling, and we’ve seen really helpful blogs like the one from our Wild Apricot colleagues that help associations and nonprofits know where to start telling great stories about their people and their mission. 

3 Tips for Creating Memorable Nonprofit Stories 

1. Let people tell their own stories

User-generated content provides huge benefits. It’s inspiring, it’s credible and it shows that the organization values supporters and members. User-generated content also eases the burden of creating original content from the organization itself, while at the same opening up ample opportunities for increased engagement and participation. Ensure the content you get is what you’re looking for by soliciting content around a key theme, in support of answering a specific question or to support a unique campaign.

2. Tell your story in different formats based on your audience

These days, people like to consume their stories in a variety of ways. Some audiences prefer to read a story, others like a visual guide like an infographic and increasingly more people like to watch stories via a video. Some even like a combination of mediums to enjoy the same story. I’m, personally, guilty of listening to a true crime story on a podcast, then spending the next week reading every article and watching every video that I can about it. 

The point is that the digital world has not made storytelling obsolete. Instead, it has made storytelling come to life and more accessible through visual tools. 

And even though the idea of visual storytelling can be intimidating due to a nonprofit’s lack of resources, consider these facts as you start to plan for which tools to invest in for the future:

  • Cisco projects that global internet traffic from videos will make up 82% of all consumer internet traffic by 2022. (Cisco)
  • 70% of YouTube viewers watch videos for “help with a problem” they’re having in their hobby, studies, or job. (Think With Google)
  • Globally, YouTube is consumers’ leading source of video content, at 83% (Facebook is second, at 67%). (HubSpot)

Visual storytelling has proven to be a highly-effective storytelling tool. Visuals allow you to quickly get messages across in high-impact ways that viewers can digest quickly. When people see your story, when they hear videos you’ve put together it creates the opportunity for a more memorable experience. Thoughtful and strategic introduction of multimedia will capture your viewers’ attention and spark meaningful engagement.

Visual aids are often essential for good nonprofit storytelling.

3. End with a call to action

Many of us learned early on that stories have a beginning, middle and end. For nonprofits, there’s an opportunity to share an overview of the problem and how the organization’s mission works to solve the problem. That’s the end, right?

It shouldn’t be. The stories that nonprofits and their supporters tell invest heavily in building an emotional connection but sometimes miss the opportunity to capitalize on it with a powerful call to action. Ensure each story your organization tells ends with a call to action—an opportunity for someone interested to become more involved. Join us, share your story, learn how to get involved all provide great ways for people to harness the positive energy from your story and turn warm feelings into next steps.

What does nonprofit storytelling look like to you?

Every association and nonprofit has a story to tell. But what that story is and the best ways to tell are up to you. If you’re stuck wondering where to start, we recommend doing things like interviewing members and volunteers and understanding the characters of your story doing persona work. 

For nonprofits, storytelling is changing the way members and partners find, engage and build relationships — and for the better. Both member- and donor-focused organizations have a clear advantage as their missions naturally create outcomes that are worthy of a great narrative.