Storytelling 101 for Nonprofits

February 4, 2016

Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes

Storytelling is our oldest and most effective form of sharing knowledge. It has sparked our imaginations and has helped us make sense of the world since ancient times. Not surprisingly, nonprofits and businesses have taken up storytelling to get their messages out. Storytelling is a proven content marketing tool and the best way to engage supporters on social media. Far more memorable than a rote list of facts or statistics, stories are what people share, both online and off. So what should you do to get started with storytelling?


1. Tell stories about your cause and who you are helping rather than your organization. By focusing on one woman’s journey with breast cancer, Komen for the Cure is able to evocatively portray the importance of its cause much more so than if it had simply stated statics, or its mission. (Koman has a whole searchable archive of inspirational breast cancer stories on hand—in lieu of that, sharing stories on Facebook every week makes for a good substitute).

Storytelling through pictures: Komen for the Cure


2. Keep your message simple. Use plain language and avoid complex details when sharing your story.


3. Make some element of your message positive, evoking amusement or inspiration. Remind your supporters what they can do to help, and that your organization is ready to solve the problem.


4. In your conclusion, convey urgency and a call to action, so that your supporters can follow through by sharing, donating, signing your petition, etc.


5. Include photos and videos! And sometimes you don’t even need copy! Posts with visuals receive much higher engagement than text-only posts. Visuals that evoke emotion will engage even more supporters. For viral videos, keep the length under two minutes. A good example of powerful video messaging is Hope For Paws, a dog rescue organization that shows the journey of the dogs they rescue from the streets to their recovery. Viewers are prompted to share and donate at the end of each one. If this doesn’t make you cry, nothing will!

6. Share simply and meaningfully on Pinterest and Instagram, weaving a story through pictures or short videos (on Instagram, that’s 15 seconds) that show the problems you are trying to alleviate and the people, places, or animals you are helping. Feature your beneficiaries and give them the opportunity to speak through pictures with captions or video. See how charity:water effectively shows its impact through emotive photography (see the featured image on the top!).


7. Allow your supporters to tell their own stories. This is a great way to engage your supporters, as people like to express who they are, what they believe in, and their journeys with your organization and cause. The rescue organization from which I adopted my dog, Bichons and Buddies, will regularly share images and updates sent to them by people that have adopted their dogs. When I sent an email with a slew of images, Bichons and Buddies compiled them into a cutely collaged graphic, which they shared along with my story.

Bichons and Buddies made a collage of my story using images I sent in an email!

Bichons and Buddies made a collage of my story using images I sent in an email!

Another clever way to allow your supporters to share stories is through Instagram. Last year’s #GivingTuesday was boosted by the #unselfie, which encouraged folks to take a photo of themselves along with a message about the cause they are supporting. The story they are telling is simple: this is who I am, this is what I care about, and you should too!   There are many great outlets to tell stories on the behalf of your organization. Mix and match, curate your own, and be sure to give your supporters the opportunity to chime in!


Featured Image: charity:water


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