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Storytelling for Social Good: Developing Your Message

December 13th, 2012. Filed under Social Good,Storytelling Series

Catching Sunset by Keoni on Flickr (Storytelling)

The first post in our storytelling series highlighted the reasons why storytelling is useful when promoting a cause, a project, or your organization. It also gave some examples of tools you can use to tell your story effectively. This post will gives you some more suggestions for developing your unique message.

Again, three important goals of effective storytelling are:

  1. defining your identity and your mission,
  2. engaging your existing network and your potential customers or clients, and
  3. persuading others to take action.

According to Suzanne Smith of Social Impact Architects, there is a “hard science behind storytelling” and that 65 percent of all human communication is storytelling, regardless of language.  When telling others about your cause or organization, your reports and data can offer useful facts, but they don’t provide your audience with a complete picture of your efforts. Storytelling is so important because it creates more of an impact than dry facts alone. People are affected by stories that stir up emotion and evoke memories.

“We drink our own Kool-Aid.”

Why do so many organizations have a hard time telling their stories? “We drink our own Kool-Aid,” says Smith, meaning that the people who work for them ask, “Why wouldn’t people want to help the homeless, or anyone in need for that matter?” It can be hard to put into words a persuasive argument for supporting a cause that you already embrace and to make a case for something that you believe in so instinctively.

Another obstacle that Smith cites is that the public sometimes has “issue ADD.” With all of the information bombarding us daily, our attention is drawn from one issue to another, especially those that get the most media coverage and go viral on social media sites. Often, this is where people will focus their attention, their time and ultimately, their money.

The lesson? Nonprofit employees need to step back from their daily roles to figure out what will get people to take action, whether it is donating money, volunteering in the community, or working for the organization itself.

When developing your message, remember to:

  • Identify your audience. It sounds simple but you need to specify to whom you’re speaking and what role they play in helping you make change. Are you simply raising public awareness, for example, or looking for donations? The answers to these questions will help shape your strategy.
  • Choose the right focus of your story. You’ll make more of an impact if you feature the people that you serve, not just your organization. Ask them to tell their own stories, highlighting how they have benefited directly from your work.
  • Utilize the right medium. Words are sufficient, but images are much more powerful. Include photos, videos, and music when necessary. Stimulate people’s senses and emotions by telling stories in different ways.

Please share your storytelling experiences and questions with us in the comments, and stay tuned for more tips for effectively sharing your story.

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