Unless you’ve been on a serious digital detox for the past few years, you’ll have probably heard a fair amount about storytelling in the world of charity communications. You’ll know that personal stories are one of the most effective ways to convey why your charity exists and the impact it has on people’s lives.
Your charity needs people to do things – donate, take part, give their time, raise money – and stories can prompt action. A story might transform a social media onlooker into a committed giver, or convert a newsletter skim reader into a fervent campaigner. An emotive story might just seal the deal with a hesitant volunteer.
You get the picture.
But before you can tap into the power of stories, you’ll need to find people willing to share theirs with you. Here are some ideas for where to find them – both inside and outside your charity.
Embedding storytelling in your organisation
If you want your colleagues to keep storytelling at the forefront of their minds, you’ll need them to understand the difference stories can make to your organisation. Everyone involved in your charity will, hopefully, be committed to achieving its overall vision and mission. But they’ll also have goals that are specific to their job. So, be ready to answer the question: ‘What’s in it for me, my team and our audiences?’.
Demonstrate the impact stories can have by sharing statistics and celebrating successes. An events officer, for example, might want to see how storytelling can increase sign ups to a 10k run. A campaigns team member will be interested in how stories can boost petition signatures.
Before you start promoting storytelling, decide what you want your colleagues to do when they come across someone who’s happy to share their story. Put in place an easy and straightforward internal process – one that, of course, factors in data protection and privacy issues. This could include a secure online form or email address that your colleagues can share with their peers or potential storytellers.
Finding stories from within your charity
The most common route to finding stories, and a great place to start, is your charity’s services. Your colleagues there are likely to have close relationships with potential storytellers. Talk to them about the power of storytelling. Offer examples of stories in action. You could find a social media post, news piece, or fundraising communication that includes an evocative story. Explain to colleagues how a story like this has raised awareness of a service, attracted volunteers or helped secure new funders.
A great example of storytelling in campaigning is Shelter’s #MySocialHome. Ann’s story, posted on Facebook and Twitter, is part of a series of ‘love letters to social housing’ from the people who live or have lived there. These very personal stories are at the forefront of a campaign pushing the government for a historic renewal of social housing.
Don’t forget about other teams. Your press, fundraising and social media colleagues may have built strong relationships with potential storytellers.
Think broadly about the stories you want to tell. You’re not just looking for people who’ve been supported by your charity. Researchers, volunteers, corporate partners and people who have taken part in events all have stories that will help further your cause.
Looking outside your charity for stories
As well as mining the resources within your charity, look outside it too. First, review your external communications. Is storytelling factored into your communication strategy and plans?
Find opportunities to add a call to action about stories to your communications. Do you have, or could you add, a simple ‘share your story’ form on your website, like Marie Curie, Shelter and the RNLI do?
Talk to colleagues about including a line or two on information or campaigning leaflets, such as: ‘Do you have a story you’d like to share about living with cancer/working with a mentor/visiting our food bank? Get in touch.’
Journalists have always turned to charities to find people to feature in their magazines and newspapers. But the press could also lead you to new storytellers who support your cause. So, do read regularly and widely and keep in touch with journalists who are sympathetic to your charity’s work.
Social media can also introduce you to a pool of potential storytellers who are interested in or affected by your cause. Ask your colleagues about any social listening they’re doing and keep them informed of any specific stories you’re looking for – giving them as much notice as possible.
Be sensitive when approaching people on social media and be aware of your charity’s privacy and consent policies when it comes to holding people’s data.
Consider collaborations too. Colleagues at similar charities and other charity sector professionals may be able to help you find new stories that benefit you both.
You’ll want to work with a diverse range of storytellers – so that the stories you share reflect your audience, or the people you’re aiming to engage with. To do this, try posting on forums for specific communities, or getting in touch with local groups to talk to them about the power of sharing stories.
Advice and resources
Charities and data protection
Books on storytelling
- Storytelling for Impact by Sarah Myers, DSC Speed Reads series
- Storytelling Can Change the World by Ken Burnett
Connect with journalists through AskCharity
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