The Power of Storytelling for Nonprofits

June 09, 2015Alec Green

Storytelling has become one of the more popular buzzwords in marketing and development circles. Many nonprofits use storytelling in the form of web profiles, blogs, and videos to demonstrate impact to supporters and donors.  In recent years, however, storytelling has also emerged as a powerful way to engage employees and volunteers.

Low company engagement is estimated to result in 300 billion in losses in the U.S. Keeping  nonprofit staff and volunteers interested and motivated cuts down on human resource issues like burnout, high turnover rates and the numbers of workers who stay on without a strong commitment to the success of the nonprofit’s mission.

NonprofitReady.org recently held a webinar entitled Moving Hearts and Minds: The Power of Storytelling within Nonprofits. During the session, Salima Hemani, Organizational Development and Change Management Executive Consultant and Leadership Coach, and founder of SZH Consulting, LLC, describes 4 steps nonprofits can take to use storytelling to increase organizational effectiveness.

1. Find stories that demonstrate why your organization exists

Look for stories within your organization that can remind staff and volunteers of why they started working with you in the first place. You need stories that can inspire, touching both their hearts and their minds. You can find powerful stories from sources within your organization as well as from the people and communities you serve. Some of the stories you might find include:

  • A day-in-the-life account or profile of a staff member, volunteer or client.
  • A personal story that shows how your organization is creating an impact in the community.
  • Your organization’s legacy story that reminds staff and volunteers of your vision and mission.

2. Train Staff to Find and Develop Stories

Learn to tell stories and train your staff to find and develop them, too. Some people may seem like natural storytellers, but storytelling is a skill that anyone can develop. To make sure your stories are impactful and engaging, work with your team to build stories along a narrative arc:

  • Start the story with a hook that captures your audience’s attention and introduces the main character.
  • Present the challenge the hero faces or struggle she or he overcomes.
  • Bring the story to a climax in which the main character is called to be courageous.
  • Move to the point where the protagonist changes her or his mental outlook or solves the problem.
  • Show the result of the change and describe what that looks like.
  • Conclude the story with a resolution of the problem and the message you’re trying to convey.

3. Share Stories

Cultivate a supportive environment in which staff members and employees feel empowered to tell stories that inspire and increase engagement. Sharing the stories needs to be as nonthreatening as possible and you need to express your commitment to creating the storytelling culture. To share stories and encourage others in your organization to do the same, train everyone in your organization on how to deliver stories.

  • Start stories with an immediate jump into action.
  • Provide several clear, concise and vivid details.
  • Connect with the audience.
  • Be aware of the message you’re trying to convey and your intent in telling the story.
  • Use silence for impact and emphasis.

4. Create a Storytelling Culture

Learning and giving your staff training on telling stories is only productive if you encourage storytelling and create an organizational culture that encourages people to engage in storytelling. You have to have a strong commitment to storytelling if you want to encourage people to tell and listen to these stories. Then, you have to give people in your organization plenty of opportunities to share the stories they’ve developed.

  • Lead the storytelling culture from the top down.
  • Develop a story bank where people can go to read or view stories.
  • Identify a Chief Storyteller on your team.
  • Provide opportunities for employees to share their stories in team meetings and, if appropriate, outside the organization on your blog, video channel, and no social media.  

Learn more about why storytelling is crucial to your organization’s success and how to implement a storytelling process within your nonprofit by watching our NonprofitReady.org webinar Moving Hearts and Minds: The Power of Storytelling within Nonprofits. Thank you to Salima Hemani for her ongoing support of NonprofitReady.org and the HR Pro Bono Corps.

About Alec Green

As Chief Marketing Evangelist, Alec Green is responsible for developing the overall marketing plan and strategy for the Foundation, executing all outbound communications, increasing visibility of the Foundation’s programs, and building engagement with our partners... more

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