The Different Types of Nonprofit Storytelling

Posted on September 7th, 2022

Nonprofit storytelling has taken on many different meanings over the last few years. As agencies become more adept at providing nonprofit storytelling services, more and more agencies, and consultants are stepping up to help nonprofits tell their stories using various methodologies and approaches.

Stories result in emotion being evoked. Stories humanize the way that nonprofits can communicate data and relate to their community. The community appreciates stories because they make it easier to consume and remember important aspects delivered by the nonprofit. This type of storytelling is mostly brand story but encompasses impact story and community story as well.

What is Nonprofit Storytelling

Nonprofit storytelling, as a term, is largely a form of marketing but there are facets within that need to be realized if the resulting story is to be focused and successful. The major consideration that needs to be taken into account is who the narrator will be. Most of the time, stories visually look like campaigns, advertisements, or even appeals. These stories contain snippets of data, and captions from community stories, and are wrapped in a brand story blanket.

Nonprofit Brand Story

Brand story is how your nonprofit is remembered by the community. It is how your nonprofit is identified as being “who you are”. This type of story encompasses the history of your brand and even involves the creation story. Brand story involves communicating your mission and values.

Brand assets play a role in this type of story because it also includes visual identifiers that usually accompany various brand stories told across your website, social, and printed materials. A nonprofit’s brand story is at the core of every story told where your nonprofit is the narrator and the voice used is predominantly the nonprofit’s voice.

Nonprofit Impact Story

Impact story is the middle ground between brand story and real human stories from the community told about your organization in various formats. A nonprofit’s impact story includes real people and real events and is a story told by the nonprofit. This type of storytelling puts the nonprofit at the helm and allows them to tell stories about their impact.

Campaigns that include impact stories are often most relatable because they include portions or a whole story from someone else in the community. Stories from the community are paramount and are the social proof nonprofits depend on to raise awareness and turn observers into engaged participants.

Nonprofit Community Story

Community Story is a phrase used less frequently but is likely the most powerful form of storytelling as it involves a nonprofit lifting up personal stories from community members as is or nearly as they were written. These are often the most compelling and relatable stories because they are utilized in a way similar to how a review would be used for a product on Amazon. These stories provide validation, social proof, and proof of impact.

Proof of impact in story form can only happen when the story is told authentically by a community member. These stories are typically easily aligned and relatable by the audience and when used correctly compel others to take action.

The Benefit of Sharing Community Stories

The socialization of community stories gives voice to your community and empowers them. Your community will feel more connected and inspired. They will feel heard and everyone likes being listened to. As a result, there is more opportunity for engagement and in general, a level of satisfaction not present when the only voice being used is the nonprofit’s. Brand story and impact story are very important. Trust me when I say that there is a third type of story (community story) that is just as important and is definitely deserving of being infused into the other types of storytelling.

When community stories are leveraged by the nonprofit, the storyteller feels important and included in the mission. The storyteller feels included because the nonprofit is including them in the storytelling process. There is a whole range of emotions that might be felt by the storyteller but these emotions are ultimately positive.

What a nonprofit gets out of community stories is multifaceted. More donations. More volunteers. More event participants. More members or corporate partners. When the community is truly given a voice and there are many advocating at the same time, others will be more compelled than if it were a single voice. They will also be more compelled to take action because it is clear that these stories are from real people and people enjoy interacting with humans more than brands.

Community Voice is Greater than a Nonprofit’s Voice

A singular voice is much quieter than a crowd. The community’s involvement in storytelling allows the nonprofit to set the stage for the loudest of concerts where the headliner is their very own community. When multiple people are sharing why they give or why they attend an event, others are sure to take notice and even attempt to do the same. Humans are ultimately naturally social creatures so the voice of many is always going to be stronger and more compelling than the voice of one.

How to Collect Community Stories for Nonprofits

There certainly is a lot to be said for having a systematic approach to collecting and leveraging community stories. However, a savvy nonprofit can turn a form into a collection device. There is also the right place and right time to ask for a story. The key points would be:

  1. Be timely
  2. Don’t ask for a review
  3. The more conversational the better
  4. Keep your inputs to a minimum (name, email, how they interacted, and their story)

That approach is covered in our article detailing transactionally asking for stories but that is an entirely different topic. To keep things really simple, just think about asking a donor why they donate or asking a volunteer why they volunteer right after they have interacted with your nonprofit. Think about asking why a staff member returns to work each day or why a board member takes time out of their week to participate.

If you think your nonprofit could do a better job collecting stories, engaging storytellers, and socializing proof of impact, we would love to talk with you about your efforts and discuss how we can help.

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