Storytelling, The Spice of (a Nonprofit’s) Life

We all talk about the significance of data and metrics. They are important to a nonprofit’s funders and its staff. They can help a nonprofit stay accountable and on track. I value data and have never questioned the important role it plays for nonprofits and, for that matter, all organizations.

However, can you imagine your food without any spices? It is very hard to imagine, right? It is the same as offering data without a story.

Spices add special flavor to your meal that people remember. The magical smell of spices attracts people to the table. Spices have been the inspiration for trade, exploration, war, and poetry since the beginning of civilization.

They change the physical appearance of food. Whether salty, sweet, bold, or delicate, each spice has its own merits and enhances the food in immeasurable ways.

Storytelling is the spice that you add to your data. With more that 1.5 million nonprofit organizations in the US, it’s critical to spice up your organization to differentiate yourself from others doing similar work. Everyone uses salt and pepper; how can your nonprofit stand out and become remarkable? What’s your special spice? More to the point, what are your stories that capture the heart and soul of your organization and speak to your donors, volunteers, and key stakeholders.

Stories engage the hearts, minds, and souls of the readers. According to Jenifer Aaker, a professor of marketing at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, stories raise over twice as much as statistics alone.

According to Prof. Aaker, the use of statistics raises an average of $1.14 for the non-profit; however, a story raises an average of $2.38 while a mix of the two raises an average of $1.43.

Why do stories raise the bar and raise more money? Because, stories are impactful, compelling and memorable. As importantly, they connect on a personal level.

According to Waggener Edstrom, 56% of individuals that support nonprofits on the social Web confirm that compelling storytelling is what motivates them to take action on behalf of nonprofits. That means that if you’re not telling your stories, you may be missing out on funding and other support.

Why? It’s pretty simple—people remember things when they’re told in a storytelling format two to seven times more than by text, or data, alone. By telling stories that make an emotional connection, an organization can make its case and emphasize the important work it’s doing. It can use stories to differentiate from other nonprofits doing similar work as well as engage current donors and volunteers and attract new ones.

Every day, we are bombarded with noise. Technology and the Internet force us to use different platforms to reach different demographics. When it comes to storytelling, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Youtube, Vimeo, and many other platforms are all fragmented and streamlined and offer only limited engagement. With different social networks, our minds (and often hearts) are pulled in different directions, with organizations chasing the conversation instead of leading it. With increasingly fragmented audiences, multiple screens, and a greater inattention to advertising messages, there needs to be a better and more secure and successful means of generating audience attention and engagement. Stories help you communicate effectively the vision and mission and tell your nonprofit’s stories in a memorable, inspiring, and engaging way. Telling your stories in one place, banking them, and then sharing them across other social networks help the nonprofit develop a core and unified message that taps into its mission and purpose. And this has the effect of driving more engagement, raising more funds, and having a greater social impact.

Is data valuable? Absolutely. And, at times, it can be used in a story to drive the message home about the nonprofit’s effectiveness and efficiency. But data alone does not cut it in terms of impactful marketing and fundraising. I personally believe that every nonprofit has a spice, but it often doesn’t know how to share it effectively beyond the organization. Without the spice of good stories, you may be leaving food on the table!

Tell your story, engage your audience, build a powerful community. And don’t forget to be creative with your spices.

“People won’t remember what you say or what you do, but they’ll remember how you make them feel.” Maya Angelou

Alyssa Martina