More Lessons for Nonprofit Storytellers

If there’s one key takeaway to share with you from Andy Goodman‘s recent workshop sponsored by the Donors Forum of Wisconsin, it’s that nonprofit leaders must not think of storytelling as optional.

Storytelling is not just another tool in the tool box to dust off when it’s time to write your organization’s annual report or new brochure.

Storytelling is an everyday requirement for your nonprofit’s communications to be successful.

Why is narrative so powerful? Humans are programmed to process information through stories. Stories are easy to remember and tell another person.  A good story is one that makes you feel something and becomes imprinted in your heart and mind.

Spouting facts and figures won’t tell your nonprofit’s story– or do anything to move your audience, as storytelling guru Annette Simmons also points out in her work.

Think of a story as a Christmas tree.  Facts and figures should be thought of as an ornament hung on the tree.  Facts are not the whole story. The story is represented by the entire tree, rooted in a compelling human experience that evokes emotion.

One outline Andy Goodman recommends is the classic Three Act structure:

Act 1:  The Protagonist

Introduce your protagonist and describe his or her goal.  This protagonist must be a person – not a faceless organization or entity! Describe the individual so your audience can make a human connection.

Act 2: The Challenge

What barriers and obstacles impede your protagonist? Paint a picture and describe a place.  Don’t rely on facts and figures to set context.

Act 3: The Resolution

How a protagonist deals with the challenges reveals their character and values.  This part of the story should detail a clear resolution and give closure to the audience.

Crafting the Right Story for the Right Audience

Your nonprofit should not be limited to just one story.  Your organization should have a library of stories to choose from depending on the audience.

What kind of stories should you tell?  Here are some types of stories to consider:

  • The “Nature of our Challenge” story
  • The “How We Started” story
  • The “Emblematic Success” story
  • The “Core Values” story
  • The “Striving to Improve” story (mostly used for internal staff to learn from mistakes)
  • The “Where We are Going” story

Is your nonprofit a good storyteller?  If you are interested in learning more about storytelling, sign up for the Goodman Center e-newsletter, Free Range Thinking.

Start crafting and collecting stories in all of the categories above.  Share these stories with every staff member, board member, and volunteer so they can be good storytellers for your organization, too!