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The Importance of Storytelling as a Tool for Social Good

What’s your story?

If you’ve ever had any creative writing instruction, you’ve probably learned the cardinal rule of writing interesting stories: “Show, don’t tell.” This means choosing descriptive words and painting a vivid mental picture for your listeners or readers, allowing them to envision the scene in their own minds.

To get people to join your cause, to learn more about you, to volunteer their time, or to support you financially, you need to share what you do in an interesting and engaging manner. The importance of storytelling is a recurring theme in the world of creating social good, especially when it comes to successful fundraising for your cause.

There are so many ways to tell your story: a blog post, a video, Instagram photos, a featured news article, an email newsletter, or even a town hall meeting. Get creative with how you deliver your message, because people will share memorable stories within their communities and soon the word will spread about the great work that you’re doing.

During a 2009 Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN) Conference, Roger Berks of Mercy Corps explained five important goals of storytelling, which is an increasingly important fundraising skill for nonprofits and individuals alike.

Effective storytelling can benefit your organization or cause by:

  • Defining who you are. It lets people know what inspires you and why you do the work that you do. You can share your mission and give examples of how you fulfill it.
  • Engaging your constituents and potential donors. They’re interested in the outcomes of your work, but they’re not as concerned about your internal process. Find a way to connect them to the people who benefit directly from your work.
  • Informing the public. Are you having a real impact in your community? What are the key issues and what are you doing to address them?
  • Demonstrating accountability. Real, measurable outcomes are more important to your supporters than mere numbers in an annual report. Words alone don’t always make an impact. But when they’re combined with faces, events, and emotions, they paint a complete picture of your efforts.
  • Persuading people to make a commitment of time or money. Once you reach them on a personal level, they’re more likely to feel an emotional connection to the issue and want to contribute. Then, many people go on to spread the word to their networks by repeating your story.

Tips for creative storytelling:

  • When writing your story, mix up different types of text, such as summaries, interviews, and survey results.
  • Include personal accounts and pictures, not just facts and figures.
  • Utilize all different types of media, especially photos and videos.

Upcoming posts in this series will feature even more specific tips, such as how to create a great video.

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