Giving by individuals made up 72 percent of annual donations in 2016. That’s almost 282 billion reasons that prove you need to make a lasting impression on each supporter, and stories are the best way to do so. Leveraging storytelling allows you to reach a large group of individuals on a personal level because people are naturally inclined to connect with one another through shared experiences. If your audience can relate to the people impacted by your cause, then they’re more likely to make a donation.
To help you create compelling content that engages audiences and attracts donations, we rounded up the Classy marketing team to share their top five storytelling tips for nonprofits. Check out the 60-second video below and then download the “How to Tell a Story” worksheet so that you can start crafting the perfect story for your nonprofit.
More of a reader than a listener? Here’s a rundown of our tips with links to related posts that will help you become a master storyteller.
1. Introduce a Main Character
Think about the content you consume every day. Whether it’s a magazine article, TV show, or a 30-second commercial, there is always a character for the audience to relate to and invest in. Without Harry Potter, nobody would make it through 4,224 pages about wizards battling hormones, homework, and snake-faced villains.
For nonprofit storytelling, your audience’s investment in your main character is key in getting them to care about a situation they don’t understand or a person with whom they have nothing in common. Make sure to include details about your main character to help your audience see them as a person and not just an unfortunate story. A young man from Pittsburgh may not immediately relate to the plight of a 12-year-old girl who doesn’t have access to feminine products, but maybe her favorite school subject is the same as his niece and that connection is what moves him to donate.
Also notice how we mention a main character, and not characters. This is because studies have shown that people are more responsive to a single person than a large group, also known as the identifiable victim effect. When you focus on the life of one person, it’s easier for supporters to focus on the impact they can have on that one person rather than seeing your cause as an insurmountable dilemma.
2. Introduce the Conflict
Now that your audience is invested in your main character’s well-being, it’s time to introduce the conflict or challenge they need to overcome. The character’s conflict will align with your organization’s mission, but make sure to personalize it to your character. Explain how the conflict impacts their everyday life and make sure to use specific details to drive home that impact.
The conflict is an important stage of your story because this is where your audience will rally around the character and empathize with their situation. Whether a lack of clean drinking water, a disease, or a human rights issue is preventing them from achieving their goal, this is when you demonstrate the extent of the challenge and how your organization is working to provide a solution.
3. Include a Call to Action
Remember that the goal of sharing a story is to move the audience to take a specific action: to fundraise, donate, and advocate for your cause. If you don’t include a clear ask, then you risk losing the captive audience you worked so hard to secure.
Avoid alienating your audience by relating your CTA to the story. Demonstrate how different donation amounts could impact your character, their community, or others like your main character.
4. Use Visual Content
Storytelling has been used to educate, entertain, and inspire for as long as humans have been able to communicate with each other. And while the methodology of modern storytelling is the same, today we have much better ways to deliver it.
We have videos, photos, GIFs, livestreams, and photography that we can use to supplement our words. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but imagine the impact you can have if you use moving pictures. Use the plethora of technology to your advantage. If you aren’t already taking advantage of visual avenues to captivate your supporters, this is the perfect time to start.
5. Show, Don’t Tell
To engage your audience, you must use descriptive language that focuses on imagery and sensory details so that your audience can relate to the story you’re telling. Don’t just say a child is hungry, explain the exact amount of food they have to ration each day and compare it to how much a person needs to survive—or how much the average American eats per day. When you make that connection for the reader, it’s that much easier for them to relate to your main character and in turn, relate to your cause.
Another way you can demonstrate the severity of your cause is to include anecdotes from real people. A first-person narrative will always be more powerful than relaying someone else’s story, so interview your beneficiaries about their experiences if possible. Find out what it feels like when your body is lacking nutrients for an extended period of time, and use powerful language to share the physical, mental, and emotional repercussions that come with going hungry. If people read your words and instinctually imagine living every day with the pang of hunger or burn of thirst, then they’ll be that much more moved to take action and give to your cause.
Sharing stories is one of the best ways to make connections with others, so it only makes sense that you use storytelling to connect with the people who have a great impact on your organization—your donors.
How do you use storytelling to appeal to your audience? Share with us in the comments below or on Twitter @Classy.
The Guide to Nonprofit Storytelling
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