It’s a tale as old as time – something happens to you or a loved one, which then inspires you to set up a charity that can help others experiencing the same thing.
The point is every charity starts with a story. But telling and sharing stories can become less and less of a priority when you are a small organisation that is just concentrating your efforts into staying afloat.
And while an emotional appeal can be effective, so is keeping your supporters engaged throughout your journey and showing them not just what and how you do things, but also why.
So whether you have been hired to write stories on behalf of a charity, or you are part of a leadership board that is desperate to get stories of your beneficiaries out there, here ten practical tips you can follow.
1 Develop a culture of storytelling within your charity
This won’t happen overnight, so start small…
- Find allies within your charity.
- Encourage others to celebrate success – what’s in it for other teams in your organisation? It gives them social currency and makes them look good.
- If you are a writer, involve yourself with different teams, go to team meetings, gather useful information and most of all make yourself known.
- Host storytelling summits/workshops where people can share updates on their projects.
2 Put processes in place
A good idea can’t work if it isn’t supported with the right processes. If you want people to approach you with stories, outline what a good story would look like. Ask people for visual queues as well, including photos and videos.
If you have stories already, you can set up a focus group or carry out an audit to see which stories are effective and which ones you should tell less of.
3 Get buy-in from your CEO and board
The importance of storytelling is a message that needs to come from the top down. This can start from simply encouraging your leaders to tweet from the industry events they go to.
You could also gather data (Google Analytics for instance) on how well your stories are doing on your web page/social media and show your CEO and board just how much impact you can make with words.
4 One size doesn’t fit all
Where appropriate, start with a blank slate with your content. Listen to the story first, and then think about the best format for it. The same format cannot work for every story.
5 Telling stories isn’t just about case studies…
You don’t have to just stay in the comfort zone of case studies when you are telling stories. Ask your beneficiaries to takeover your social media channels, and inspire them to take part in user-generated content. Be creative.
6 Think creatively around anonymity
For charities that start from a point of keeping their beneficiaries safe and anonymous, it can be tough finding ways to shout about the good work you do in supporting them.
But there are ways around it; for instance, if you are a youth charity or one dealing with vulnerable people, you can encourage beneficiaries to share works of art like poetry, spoken word, etc. It will show personality and variety.
7 Don’t be afraid to make mistakes
Easier said than done. But mistakes do happen, (or you might not get the results you anticipate straight away), and what can soften the blow is knowing you have the support of colleagues and other teams who are aware of what you are trying to achieve.
Protect yourself by spreading the word around your organisation (see tip number one about finding allies).
8 Remember, your staff are also your audience
Make use of the intranet and internal newsletters to update and inspire your staff. This will make them feel part of something bigger and can also encourage them to share those stories with their networks.
9 Have story champions across your organisation
If you have people that share your vision of telling stories, you can foster those relationships and encourage them to fight your corner.
10 Take care of your storytellers
If you are speaking directly with a beneficiary, make sure your subject is ready to tell their story. Then, share the content with them first and make sure they are comfortable with what is being published and where.
Shock, tears, laughter – it all serves a purpose
Whether it’s an event that turns your life upside down, a long journey with illness, or seeing a family member or a close friend go through something that you desperately want to help with – there is always a catalyst that leads to an action, and your stories can serve that purpose.
After all, a good story can shock you, make you cry, make you laugh. Every single charity has used a story to put down roots, so why not help those roots grow?