4 Steps to Creating Your Nonprofit’s Storytelling Strategy

February 22, 2017 Vanessa Chase

This article was originally published on npEngage.

Does your nonprofit have a plan for storytelling this year? If you’re like most organizations, the answer is most likely no.

The truth is that nonprofits are still not using storytelling as strategically as they could be. I hear from many of my clients and students that it “happens when it happens.” In other words, storytelling is an ad-hoc activity that happens on the side. The problem with this approach is that it leads to missed opportunities.

Storytelling can be used support your organization’s advocacy, communications, marketing, and fundraising efforts by helping you build stronger connections with your audience. To ensure that the stories you tell support these activities—and your calls to action are answered—you must do some strategizing and planning.

Below you’ll find step-by-step guidance for how your organization can strategically curate stories throughout the year. In the example below, I use fundraising as the chief activity but you can follow these steps with a different activity in mind, too.

Step 1: Start with the Important Dates

As you look at your 2017 calendar, begin by designating the most important dates for your organization. This could include:

  • Special events
  • Fundraising appeals
  • #GivingTuesday
  • Year-end campaigns
  • Anniversaries
  • Holidays related to your cause
  • . . . and more

These are all potential opportunities for your organization to tell stories that showcase the ways in which your organization has created impact and benefited from donor support. I recommend creating a master spreadsheet or document of all the important dates throughout the year and keep track of the key opportunities for your nonprofit to insert its voice.

Step 2: Choose Your Key Messages

Once you’ve created your document of important moments and events, your next step is to think about what key messages you want to share throughout the year. These key messages should add another layer to your key moments document, highlighting the opportunities to reinforce your organization’s primary messages.

A key message is the main point you want your audience to takeaway from your story. For instance, if your organization runs a special fundraising campaign in the spring for a summer camp for kids, an example of a key message for this might be: “Summer camp provides kids with opportunities to gain confidence and skills that will last a lifetime.” Once you have decided upon your key messages, you’ll be able to structure your story in a way that ensures that this key message is central to the point of your story.

An easy way to identify your key message is to think about the theory of change that you are proposing in your appeal. This will almost always be your key message.

Step 3: Find Your Stories

The reason why this is Step 3 is because there is important ground work to do before identifying and planning your stories. Now that you’ve completed that work, your task is to brainstorm stories that will complement your campaigns and key messages.

Continuing with the summer camp example, the organization could tell stories about campers, camp counselors, parents of campers, or even donors who financially supported the camp. The point is to find the story that helps you best demonstrate the ways in which your organization has created change and opportunity—how has summer camp benefited a life? What story can  you tell to help you best shine light on the importance of this program?

As a part of the planning process, it can be helpful to brainstorm a list of all the possible stories you could tell for each storytelling opportunity you have. This helps you avoid a common mistake of committing to a single story without considering all of the other possibilities.

Step 4: Create Your Plan

Once you have completed Steps 1 to 3, you are ready to create your storytelling plan. I’ve seen organizations create storytelling plans using a variety of different tools depending on the organization’s needs. It could be something as simple as a Word document or a shared calendar. Or you could opt to use something like Trello or Asana to track and manage your storytelling plan. I encourage you to think about your organization’s needs and to pick a solution that will best meet them. You can also find a hardcopy template in my book, The Storytelling Non-Profit: A practical guide to telling stories that raise money and awareness.

At a very basic level, your storytelling plan needs to give you a high-level view of what stories you are telling and when. That’s it. Of course, there may be other details that you want to include depending on your team structure and project management system.

Other Considerations:

I’ve outlined four steps that your organization can take to create a storytelling plan, but I encourage you to also consider the following.

  • In the planning process, who needs to be consulted?
  • In the planning process, who has authority?
  • Who are the collaborators in executing the plan?
  • What resources do you need to execute the plan?
  • How will you maintain and use the plan on an on-going basis?

I hope these steps and considerations can serve a starting point for your organization’s storytelling success!


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