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by Meredith Kavanagh
Creating a narrative that immediately hooks readers, engages them enough to keep reading, and compels them to take action (such as making a donation, reading another post, sharing with friends and family) is a daunting task. However, the positive results of strong storytelling drive people to improve their skills and make it a priority for their organization.
One person who does it very well is Colin Ryan, a financial comedic speaker who joined us at the 2019 Collaborative to discuss how to leverage humor with a serious subject. His 2019 talk was such a hit that we invited him back to speak at the Collaborative: Virtual Sessions, where he led our audience through the session How to Nail Your Nonprofit’s Story and Drive Action.
It builds off the tips he shared in 2019 on infusing humor into storytelling and focuses on how storytelling can help nonprofits tackle the various challenges they face. His session explains how nonprofit professionals can create humorous, story-driven content and develop dynamic presentation skills that will help further their mission.
You can watch the session recording below or keep reading for the lessons and actionable tips he shares.
Decide on Your Desired Outcome
The core of being a professional speaker is strategic storytelling. The first aspect of that is to design your story with the outcome in mind. Or to put it in other words, speak with intention.
” This is not rocket science, it’s more art than it is science. But if we’re using a formula of the best way to tell a story and to get the results you want, the first step is to express the outcome you want to get as a result of your story.”
Strategic storytelling means creating a design for a desired outcome. Whether that’s to earn donations or to simply evoke emotion that will create a bond between your audience and your mission, you as the storyteller must decide what that outcome is. Colin shares tips on a few of the most popular outcomes for strategic storytelling for nonprofits.
1. Evoke Emotion
Think about the desired emotion you want people to feel as you write your story. For example, if you want your audience to feel excited about the progress your nonprofit has made on your cause, then focus your story on the incredible work and results and then close by showing them how much more needs to be done.
If you’re speaking or presenting your story to an audience, embody that same emotion you want to convey. Show that you’re excited about your work and the beneficiaries and allow your nonverbal cues to reflect the emotion that is your desired outcome.
2. Take Action
In the video of his session, Colin urges the audience to remember that the first action should be so small and convenient that they can’t not take it. For example, if you work for a human rights organization and you’re writing an email relaying the details of a recently passed law that infringes on women’s reproductive rights, there may be several calls-to-action you can share.
However, think about how a new supporter might feel if your email asks to sign up as a fundraiser, share their campaign, and make a donation. That’s a big ask for a supporter who just joined your community. Make sure to include a simple action that someone can take along with your higher commitment asks, so everyone can get involved at a level they feel comfortable with.
3. Make a Donation
If the number one desired outcome after reading or listening to your story is for someone to donate, you need to lead them down that path. Create trust, empathy, and send a message of positive momentum by saying something like, “Join us to help with the amazing work we’re already doing.” Often, this is a more encouraging message than putting the pressure on the supporter to make a difference on their own.
How to Tackle Common Challenges That Nonprofits Face
1. Everyone says “tell stories”—but how do we do that quickly and effectively?
The strategic story concept focuses on the three elements that make up a story:
- Hook: The most engaging first sentence. Either start writing the story, or you can pull people in with a rhetorical question that is easy for people to respond to. For example: “Have you ever just needed a win?”
- Scene: Focus on a moment. Describe a photo and not a video. This is helpful because it’ll shorten your story time and help you cut tangents.
- Point: This is the thing you want to say in the beginning. “Support our cause”, “our work is meaningful because of X,” this is the bottom line.
If you use a hook and a scene to bring people in before getting to the point, it’s going to stick with people longer than if you just shared a statement or an ask.
2. Where do we get new content ideas?
Colin shared a story about working with Roxanne Avant, executive director of Urban Surf 4 Kids. Roxanne enjoys speaking in-person, but felt more apprehensive about digital storytelling.
A few of the takeaways that make this an effective story:
- Dialogue can be a story
- Leverage the identifiable victim effect
- Connect your cause to current events (in a respectful way)
To hear Roxanne’s story and more details on the specific lessons Colin shares using this example, view the recording now.
3. What if our message is challenging?
There are many variations of this challenge, like:
- What if the message itself is challenging?
- What if the story is emotionally heavy that if you tell the story it can become depressing?
- What if your message doesn’t feel serious enough?
- What if your message doesn’t feel unique enough?”
Many organizations face this struggle, so know that you aren’t alone. If your mission isn’t straightforward, or your results include a lot of data, or if you have a heavy message that is difficult to speak about, there are still ways for you to leverage storytelling.
To discuss this challenge, Colin worked with Thaís Marques from RAICES. To hear her story and more details on the takeaways that come from this story, watch the session.
A few of the takeaways that make this an effective storytelling example:
- Strong opening line and scene
- Invoke nostalgia and talk about something that pulls us back to our own part of our timeline because that automatically creates a positive feeling
- Maintain 80% of the story being positive aspects with 20% negative
- Speak with confidence and conviction to make it a positive story
The number one takeaway is that you make your message unique.
Nonprofits often think they are only supposed to talk about the work they do and share statistics, but sharing why you do the work is possibly the most convincing argument you can make for why other people should care. You can share your motivation to help get others excited about your mission and want to take part.
“Our goal is to not linger in the moments that are painful, but to focus on the parts of it that are hopeful and positive.
More Storytelling Tips
To learn more about nonprofit storytelling, check out Colin’s entire presentation by accessing the extended sessions library on the Collaborative site. In the extended sessions library you’ll also find the following fundraising and marketing recordings to further your knowledge:
- The Best Video and Social Media Tools to Use and When
- Standout Virtual Events to Inspire You
- Understanding the Modern Donor: How to Design Systems That Build Lasting Donor Relationships at Scale
- Retaining Crisis Donors 101