Storytelling is an incredibly powerful force. When we tell stories with family, friends and strangers, we draw closer to each other. When the nonprofit world uses storytelling, it can illustrate progress and serve as a public declaration of identity. A good story will encourage more individuals to engage with your cause.
In 2015, I worked as part of a pilot program at a literacy nonprofit that offers early childhood development classes to parents with toddlers. My responsibilities and energy spread between recruitment, managing client data and finding volunteers. Throughout the year, I learned four ways storytelling greatly helped our nonprofit program improve and succeed.
Storytelling increased the number of students we served and retained. When we first started recruiting students for our program, many were skeptical because the program was new to the community. In the brief period we pitched our literacy program to potential students, we needed to consider what language we used to promote our classes. The director of my program shared her personal story of immigrating to the United States with three young children and receiving her doctorate from one of the most prestigious universities. The community related to the struggle she described and saw they could attain the success she achieved. Her story increased trust between staff and students, which gave more incentive for students to keep coming back to class week after week.
Your nonprofit program and resources have the potential to make a huge impact. Giving direct examples through stories of how students will find success in the future will solidify your program participants’ commitment to your services.
Student success stories encouraged staff to keep working hard and encouraged donors to keep giving. When students shared how their participation in our program positively affected their lives, these words had greater meaning than any test results or general statistics. Working at a nonprofit can be chaotic, and reminders of how you make a difference will motivate your team and volunteers.
Record success stories and keep them saved and easily accessible. As your nonprofit grows and changes, these stories will provide constant encouragement to staff. You should also include success stories in grant applications, your website or newsletters (with permission). Donors will see these stories and feel confident their money is going to the right place.
A story paired with statistics provided the perfect progress report. I would regularly create impact reports to share internally with staff. With all our different responsibilities, this helped everyone have accurate snapshots of the number of students we were serving and retaining. It also reminded us to keep the big picture in mind when small things would get complicated. As we started collecting student stories, the impact reports grew to include pictures and quotes.
Bring impact reports to neighborhood open houses, donor thank-you events and volunteer orientations. These reports create a picture of your nonprofit’s identity, the work you accomplish and how students feel about their experiences. A picture paired with a testimonial will connect readers to the individuals you serve.
Asking students to publicly share their experience with our program instilled a deep sense of pride for all their work. We invited one of our most dedicated students to speak at a luncheon with many community members and nonprofit staff. Although the luncheon was casual, our honored student showed up in a formal dress with a few of her family members. She spoke briefly, but from her heart about how the program helped her relationship with her family. She was beaming, albeit nervous, and it was clear she felt honored to speak about her individual experience.
Granted, not everyone likes public speaking; don’t be shy to ask students to share their stories with the community. You are acknowledging that you value their unique experiences. If students seem wary of crowds, still put in effort to ask about their experiences. Tape recorders or written interviews can still provide individuals with the opportunity to share their emotional journey working with your nonprofit, which is invaluable. If publicly sharing their stories is not possible, this will give you much needed insight on where to focus more energy.
A story gives you an opportunity for a clear and easy call to action. Plain and simple. A story tells constituents to get involved with your nonprofit and stay connected. It is transparent, loud and easy to remember, while also honest and humble. Encouraging a storytelling culture in your nonprofit will bring everyone closer and inspire more dedication and positivity.
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