Nonprofit Storytelling: 5 Tips for Collecting Compelling Stories

Image: Flickr

Image: Flickr

If you want to raise money, tell stories. Stories work better than statistics. Period. This post from the Stanford Social Innovation Review outlines why storytelling inspires giving.

Typically, your best stories will come from one of four sources:    

Clients – Your clients often have fascinating, personal stories about how your organization helped them.

Staff – Program staff have hundreds of stories about the impact of their work, or a change they saw occur as a result of the service your organization provides.

Donors – Donors have stories about why they give, and how they first became interested in your cause and your organization.

Community – Public figures or other organizations sometimes have stories about your nonprofit’s community-wide benefit and how it is changing lives locally. 
If you’d like to incorporate more stories into your fundraising work, here are 5 easy tips to get you started today:

1. Cultivate a culture of story gathering in your organization

Your first step here is to make sure all of your staff, board and volunteers understand how and why stories are used in fundraising. People will be more willing to help you collect stories if they have a bit of context. Share examples of the kind of stories you’re looking for, tell stories yourself, talk about asking for stories. Just tell more stories. 

2. Put stories on the agenda for all meetings

It can be refreshing and inspiring to start out a staff or board meeting with 10 minutes of people sharing client, staff or donor stories they witnessed from the previous week. Cast a wide net and make it casual so no one feels their stories are “wrong” in any way.  

Try a fun storytelling exercise like having everyone tell a favorite story in less than 10 words.  For example, Parents of child won’t take no for an answer. Compelling, right? You want to know more! This exercise is great at showing the power of stories. 

If you keep stories on the agenda, the more time goes by, the more people will get into the habit of watching for great stories in their day-to-day work. They’ll hold on to them because they know there’s a mechanism for sharing. 

3. Ask open-ended questions

You can do this yourself when you’re with a donor or a client. You can also train others to do it. Look at these two different ways to ask the same question, and notice how the open-ended option naturally leaves room for your client to share their story:

Question:  So our organization helped you find a job at a flower store? Answer: Yes.

Open-end question:  So how did our organization help you?  Answer: A story about how the client lost her job 4 years ago, her children, her mother, her interest in gardening…

4. Have a place to store and retrieve organizational stories

Collecting stories is no good if you can’t access them. One nonprofit I know uses Google Docs to create its Story Bank – everyone in the organization has access to the Story Bank document and can add stories or use the doc as a resource when writing appeal letters, grant proposals or other fundraising materials.

5. It doesn’t need to be a full-blown story

Quotes or short testimonials from clients can often work just as well (or better!) than a long story. 

People tend to be reflective during the holiday season, which makes right now a great time of year for collecting stories. Keep your ears open and good luck!

What are some ways you collect stories or use them in your fundraising work? Please share in the Comments box below.

Special gift for you: Conquer Your Fear of Asking for Money, a step-by-step guide, is available here (click).