How to create great success stories for your Nonprofit

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Most nonprofits have the need for a steady stream of success stories and testimonials to support their marketing and fundraising efforts. But, as you probably noticed, getting, producing and transforming these stories into effective marketing communication it’s not that easy.

In this post I’ll give you some tips on how to generate compelling success stories, focused on specific challenges, actors, solutions, and outcomes.

 

How to generate new stories

First of all you need to help your staff understand the importance of stories in the organization’s fundraising and marketing efforts. For that you need to show them how and where they are used, and their impact in bringing investors and donors closer to your organization.

Another important point is helping your staff collect those stories. This can include a simple mechanism of donor or beneficiary information collection (already part of the usual interaction you have with them), and also a specific intention of collecting their story within your project, in a more personal way (interviews for example). The key tip here is to introduce to these into your intake process, to the extent possible.

Getting Permission

You’ll probably have to walk a delicate balance regarding to permissions… If for one side you need to tell a heartbreaking story of a real person overcoming dire circumstances, to motivate others to support your organization, on the other side you have to preserve their dignity.

It’s obvious you need to get the permission for making their stories public. But their privacy can be maintained in the way you attribute the story. The person can accept a full disclose (name and photo), can only accept the use of the first name or initials with a generic attribution, or a fake name to fully protect them.

Just don’t forget to thank them for sharing their story, show them the finished story and explain the impact it will have in raising more support for your cause and project.

How to structure an effective story

Stories should be about real people who need something that your organization provides (your beneficiaries) and about the impact your investors and donors did, through your organization.

Two key ingredients in a great story are the emotional impact and the ability to place the reader or viewer in the subject shoes. A good way to do this is to tell the story in the first person – as it tends to be more emotional and more powerful. But at the same time it makes it more difficult to obtain story and it can turn not as coherent as needed for marketing purposes. In any case, you always choose to tell it in third person, while including quotes from the subject in the story.

Also, minds tend to wander, so get real quickly. In about 5-15 seconds your readers or viewers will tune out if you haven’t grabbed them.

Here are some key aspects you should have into account when telling the story:

  • Subject: Who is this story about? (give some details on the subject) And how did the person found your organization?
  • Conflict: What are the challenges the person is facing? How does the subject feels?
  • Resolution: How the problem was resolved? What did the subject do to deal with the problem? What did your organization do? What steps were presented to the subject to deal with the problem?
  • Result: What changed? How does the subject feels now? Did you achieve your goal? Any lessons learned? What next for your organization and for the subject?

Some tips on the feeling of the story:

  • Make it conversational: Listen to what your readers and viewers like, before creating the content of the story.
  • Make it celebratory:  Focus on the accomplishments of your subject and organization.
  • Make it visual:  If you can, record it (audio and video). If you can’t, don’t forget to have great photos, graphics or maps to go with the story.
  • Make it data free:  Make the story more about the emotional engagement, and leave other forms of communication to feed data to potential donors or investors.

How to ‘capitalize’ the story

After creating the story, think on how you are going to communicate it. Remember you can ‘capitalize’ your main content, by dividing and redistributing it in different platforms to different target audiences.

 

To do so, have in mind that  each social platform offers different options for presenting your content. Consider the following:

  • Network purpose: private or business;
  • Type of community: formal or informal;
  • Number of characters for the post;
  • Type of media you can share: links, images and/or videos (external or native);
  • Use of emojis, hashtags or tags;
  • Best time to post;
  • Ideal posting frequency.

Remember that it’s important to address each social platform individually. Even if you share the same content, change the form, the media, and the posting times accordingly.

Checklist

  • Is this story interesting to your target audience?
  • Is it clear who the story is about?
  • Does this story unveils a conflict to be resolved?
  • Is it clear you helped the subject to reach a solution? What is the main lesson learned from this story?
  • What changes? (in skills, knowledge, attitude, practice, well-being, or policy)
  • Does this story make a compelling point that people will remember? And what do you want the reader or viewer to feel?
  • Does it explain what kind of impact your organization could have if scaled up?
  • Does it show which partners contributed and how?
  • Is this story in the first person? If not, does it include quotes from stakeholders or beneficiaries?
  • Have you recorded any media to illustrate the story?
  • Have you provided the contact details of people who can provide more information?
  • How are you going to reach your audience? In which platforms? With what communication materials?

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