I am on a mission to help nonprofits of all sizes become better communicators. This is the second part in a multi-part series on nonprofit storytelling designed to show nonprofits the most effective ways to amplify their stories using digital storytelling techniques.
There is a myriad of benefits that can be gained through a strategic online foray into storytelling—benefits that will resonate throughout the entire organization, from donors to clients to staff.
Here are just some of the many benefits that your nonprofit will enjoy when you start using stories in your communications and fundraising efforts:
1) Seeing Your Mission with a More Critical Eye
Yes, we know why we do what we do and why people should donate, volunteer, and attend our events, but can we tell it in a way that will make complete strangers care?
Collecting and telling stories out in the open forces nonprofits to answer uncomfortable but necessary questions. Most importantly, the sheer amount of information, both online and off, competing for your donors’ attention should cause nonprofits to dig deep into the vital question, “Why should anyone care about what we do?”
Can you make people care deeply about your mission? So deeply that they will actively share your good work with others? Can your message cut through the clutter and the noise on the Internet? And if not, what are you doing wrong, and in what specific ways can you improve?
2) Increased Media Attention
Medical and law journals love dry statistics and research. Human beings and mainstream media outlets love stories. If you want to get in The New York Times or your local paper, having an interesting or unique story can lead to increased media coverage for the organization.
3) Bigger Financial Commitments from Donors
Donors are giving you their money, and they want to know that they are affecting change in real lives. Stories about the population served by your organization strengthen the bond with donors and can inspire them to share your good work with their peers.
If your nonprofit is to survive, you must have a comprehensive donor relations program—one that involves research, stewardship, acknowledgment, and cultivation. Social media and storytelling play an integral part in these four steps. They assist nonprofit staff in making personal connections, conveying impact, and learning more about who supports your program.
4) Word-of-Mouth Marketing
Telling compelling stories that get shared via social media exposes your nonprofit to new people. Your board of directors is constantly asking you, “Where can we find new donors and supporters?” The answer: Online!
When a supporter shares a story posted on your Facebook page or retweets your tweet, the supporter’s friends, family members, and social network connections become aware of your organization. This helps you in your quest to spread the word about your programs and services to new people who may need them, as well as to people who may advocate for your cause.
5) Standing Out
Social media tools enable a nonprofit to provide a richer and more comprehensive picture of itself and its mission. There are so many hundreds of messages competing for our attention every second. To combat information overload, use stories. Videos and photos that tell the story of your organization add up to a much more interesting experience for a potential supporter. Stories told via Facebook or Instagram are certainly more eye-catching and memorable than a black and white photocopied annual report (and may even be cheaper due to printing and mailing costs).
6) Making Better Communicators
Great nonprofit storytelling requires creativity. Our culture values stories told in visual and emotional ways. Nonprofits everywhere are making a significant impact on the lives of others, and they have stories to tell. Tell them uniquely and compellingly without being boring or predictable.
7) Increased Transparency
Storytelling forces nonprofits to be transparent, which I love. Nonprofit naysayers and critics often have a problem with the supposedly secretive, “ivory tower” world of most organizations, especially larger ones. Storytelling through open social media channels allows you to lift the veil and be transparent in your operations and your work. This helps the sector as a whole be seen as authentic and truthful.
8) Instant Real-time Feedback
Social media provides an amazing way to communicate with donors in real time. Pew Internet found that, as of January 2014, 74 percent of online adults eighteen years of age and older use social networking sites. In fact, 73 percent of online adults eighteen+ years of age use at least one social networking site daily!
The lesson: Learn where your donors are already networking online and insert yourself into the conversation. Make your donors smile when they see the results of the gift they gave and the outcomes they directly helped to achieve.
Stay at the top of donors’ minds with frequent Facebook postings, tweets, and Instagram photos that showcase the stories of your organization. Once you get in the groove and the social media mind-set, you won’t be able to stop!
Social media tools are perfect avenues to gather instant, unfiltered feedback on a new program, topic, or question as well as validation and confirmation of your important work. Post, tweet, and share online and then listen to the conversation that ensues!
Word of Warning: Stories Cannot Stand Alone
Beware the “shiny new toy” syndrome. The terms “storytelling” and “social media” are trendy and mostly misunderstood. As a result, stories alone are not enough. Storytelling is a great strategy to convey the impact of your work, but it is not a panacea. You must be able to back up what you are doing or show that this is a real problem and you are answering a real need.
There are limits to the magic of storytelling for your nonprofit. Several things that storytelling and social media cannot do are:
- Fix bad management or incompetence
- Repair a lousy program or service
- Erase a bad reputation or public relations scandal (In fact, it may just amplify it.)
- Replace other marketing strategies that work for your organization
- Replace tried-and-true fundraising tactics, like direct asks and one-on-one meetings
- Cut the time you spend on marketing and fundraising in half
But if done well, a combination of storytelling and social media will augment all other communication and fundraising efforts!
This is an excerpt from the book Storytelling in the Digital Age: A Guide for Nonprofits. To get a free chapter sent to your inbox, please sign up here.
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