Sometimes we in the nonprofit world think we have to be all business. Facts, data, measurable outcomes, even social return on investment, a concept we have borrowed from business.
Meanwhile, in the for-profit world, the hot new thing is storytelling.
- Stories About How You Got Started. What burning social question did your organization try to solve? What interesting characters took up the challenge? What adversity have you faced, and how are you succeeding? Tell this story when you:
- Bring new staff onboard, or the veteran staff need inspiration.
- Orient new Board members.
- Introduce yourself to new prospects.
- Look back in order to look forward and plan for the future.
- Stories About How You Work. What can people expect from your organization? Tell this story when you meet new clients, pitch new donors, or talk to new partner organizations about working together.
- Stories That Teach.
Don’t be dry, and don’t be preachy. A story can help people see for themselves what they should do. Tell this story when you’re training staff…or when you’re changing minds. Advocacy is more convincing when it comes in the form of a story.
- Stories That Communicate Vision. Why are you in business? What do you hope to accomplish? Tell this story when people are getting off track or lost in the difficult details of the daily grind. Tell it to restore clarity and build toward consensus.
- Stories That Demonstrate Your Values.
Once upon a time, I put together a newsletter for my agency. We were ready to mail it when the client who was the central figure in the lead article came in and said, “I don’t want my photo and my story in your newsletter.” His caseworker and the receptionist looked to see how I’d react. “You own your story,” I said. “We will throw out the newsletters we’ve printed and redo it.” The story of what I had done circulated through the agency–and it said more about our values than any memo. Tell this story at every opportunity.
- Stories That Overcome Objections. Nonprofits must “sell” their services to clients, donors, funders, and regulatory agencies. Each of them worries about wasting their time and money. A story about how you helped a client in a similar situation will help that worry to disappear. Tell this story when that’s what it takes to close the deal.
Here’s a plan for you. Once a week for the next six weeks, scribble down the basics of one of these stories. Then, practice telling it out loud to someone. Before summer ends, you’ll have be ready to find the opportunities to tell these tales. The more you tell them, the stronger your organization will become.
So, ready, set, story!