How to Craft your Non-Profit’s Story
The only guide you’ll ever need to craft a rockin’ story at your non-profit.
We nonprofits have the best stories, enough to give Hollywood a run for its money. Think about it, we have heroes (our volunteers & donors), villains (anyone who perpetuates injustice), and examples of triumph over tragedy (we usually call these ‘success stories’).
But for all we’ve got in stories, we lack in storytelling. We take some of the greatest examples of human triumph and manage to water them down to a short paragraph on our website. On top of that, we have the audacity to give that paragraph a title as boring as ‘success story’. Folks, the story of the human spirit if far too beautiful to be whittled down to a humble paragraph! We at non-profits have got to start telling stories in the way they deserve to be told. In a way that hooks people into our movement and doesn’t let them go, in a way that shows prospective volunteers/donors how they too can make a difference, and in a way that uplifts the human spirit.
Today, we’re going to spend a good deal of time figuring out how to craft, tell, and share an awesomely inspiring story. Because I believe if we nonprofit-ers could get awesome at stories, the world would be a much more awesome place. Speaking of awesomeness, don’t think that telling an awesome story means that you have to do awesomely expensive things like professional video or actors. Our stories are the best precisely because they are authentic and real, which is great because then you can use authentically cheap things like real people who have real smartphones that they can record real video with.
So, below I’m going to share with you some strategies to bootstrap your way into crafting beautiful stories at your nonprofit. Here’s what you’ll get if you read on:
- An example of a kickin’ story – straight out of Kansas City.
- The five elements that can transform any story from trash to Hollywood material.
Next week, we’ll chat about another key ingredient: sharing your story with the world. Let me launch us off by telling a story of my own…
The Kansas City Royals and Their Impossible Quest for Greatness [Note my use of a flashy title here – you should create flashy titles too, it’s a great way to keep people reading] 🙂
I’m a proud Kansas Citian. You can talk to me about why you think your city is the greatest on the planet, and I’ll smile and nod, all the while thinking to myself ‘this dude/dudette just doesn’t get it’. Ok, not really, I’ll still save some love for your city too, but, that doesn’t change the fact that I’m a die-hard believer in my adopted hometown.
So, it should come as little surprise that last year, when our very own KC Royals made it to the World Series, I was rabidly excited. I mean, those poor dudes (the Royals) had been the underdogs of the MLB for years. We hadn’t made the playoffs in like 3 decades, never sold out games, and once even had a player who got himself tangled in a tarp in the infield. It was at this moment of ultimate despair that we had a few heroes step into our story. Guys like Salvi Perez, Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer (we call him ‘Hoz’ for short) who showed us the true meaning of baseball.
But more than that, our Royals came together last year and taught us the true meaning of community. I have to confess that prior to this season, I was something of a ‘fair weather’ fan…I mean, get me a good group of friends, food, and a baseball game, and sure, I’d go, but I’d generally zone out by the 5th inning. Not last season. Last season, I was riveted to the wonderful story that was unfolding in my city. You see, it wasn’t just about baseball – it was about a community of people rallying behind a small group (the Royals) committed to changing the way we viewed our home team – and The Royals did it wonderfully. How? They shared their story with us AND made us a part of it. We saw the way the team supported each other, the way they believed in this city and in themselves, we saw the way they won with class and lost with grace. It was the ultimate Cinderella story and we got to watch unfold right in front of us.
Nothing could have made me more proud to be a Kansas Citian. And so much about The Royals’ story can help us understand how to craft beautiful stories of our own.
Now, let’s use my Royals story to unpack the 5 key storytelling elements for any story you tell:
1.) Have a character. This doesn’t necessarily need to be one person – The Royals told a story with an entire team, but we got to know the people on that team. Salvadore Perez is our unbelievably amazing catcher from Venezuela who doesn’t let his heavily accented English stop him from rallying the team when it seems like all is lost. Or take the story of Terrance Gore, and his mentor Jarrod Dyson – Gore is relatively new to the team, younger, and probably one of the shortest players in the MLB. One of the most beautiful moments I’ve ever seen was when Gore, having just scored the winning run, was embraced by his mentor shortly before being embraced by the entire team.
2.) Share a problem that character encounters. In the case of the Royals, our problem was that we hadn’t had a postseason appearance since 1985. In the case of our non-profits, it is important that we use this step to create an emotional connection between the people we serve and the volunteers we hope to recruit into service. This can only be done by sharing a specific story of a problem encountered by one of our clients.
3.) Make your volunteer a ‘guide’ in your story. Your character has just encountered a problem – it is here that you want to openly share how your prospective volunteer can help them through. For example, I used to recruit volunteers into a refugee resettlement agency, so after I explained that refugees lack furniture, I showed them our warehouse of furniture and explained how they could help us furnish lives as refugees sought to create homes for their families.
4.) Give them a plan. You have a character, that character has a problem, and you’ve shown your volunteer how they can guide that character – now you need to explain to them exactly how they can do that. It is here that you need to get specific and lay out how and why you’ve designed certain volunteer roles. Show your volunteer that you have a clearcut game plan for helping them as they help others.
5.) Call them to action. I cannot stress the importance of this enough! Once you’ve told your story, and shown your volunteer how they can be a part of it, you have to call them to action! Don’t be afraid to go as far as saying things like: when do you think you can start helping our families? Or – which of these roles do you think would be the best fit for you? I know those might seem like high pressure tactics, but – you are committed to the families you serve, and if you’ve told a beautiful story – you shouldn’t be afraid to boldly ask others to become a part of it.
I’m looking very forward to watching The Royal’s story continue to unfold in a city I love, and I’m convinced that if we, as volunteer leaders, can learn effective storytelling, we can transfer our affection for our clients to every prospective volunteer that walks through our door.
Stay tuned on Friday as we explore several other resources for effective storytelling – for now, please join this conversation by answering the following in the comment box below: how have you told beautiful stories at your nonprofit?