11 storytelling tips that will fuel your NGO’s fundraising


Storytelling for NGOs

Every NGO has powerful and urgent stories to tell. Good stories evoke emotions, connect us, make us embrace different perspectives and trigger us to take action. Are you looking for ways to bring your NGO’s story closer to your donors’ hearts? Here are 11 storytelling tips that will help you boost your marketing and fundraising efforts.

1. Have a clear purpose

Before even thinking of your storyline, stop and ask yourself: what exactly do I want to achieve through this story? Do I want to attract new donors, show existing donors the impact of their donations or maybe raise awareness about an issue and influence policy-making? Make your goal as tangible as possible, define your target audience and the rest will follow.

2. Focus on one message

Whenever we are passionate about a subject, we want to cover all the details. And in the non-profit world there is generally a lot of passion. So we often want to communicate everything. And it makes sense. It is serious, important and urgent. But exactly because it is serious, important and urgent, it needs to be clear and powerful. And mixing more messages can have the exact opposite effect. It can become confusing and blurry, especially for an audience who doesn’t know the ins and outs of your cause. By emphasising one message at a time, you can channel energy, bring focus and drive more impact.

3. Zoom in on the problem

Powerful stories start by immersing the reader or viewer into a new world. Describe the context and state the problem in order to help your audience dive into your world. You can show the multiple layers of a situation by zooming in from a global or nation-wide perspective to community and personal level. To make the context more tangible and illustrate the magnitude of the problem, use facts and figures; and to make it more relatable, explain what it means for one specific person. To achieve this in your visuals, you can offer a bird’s eye view of your focus area with drone shots and slowly zoom in on your main character(s).

4. Establish a personal connection

Once you’ve zoomed in on your main characters, give a vivid image of their lives, environment, everyday experiences, struggles and joys. Personal stories can break walls, build bridges and conjure up the strongest of emotions. Science shows that stories don’t only activate the language processing parts in our brain but also any other area in the brain that we would use when experiencing the events of the story. This is why personal stories can have such an impact on our emotions; we tend to relate them to our own experiences and imagine ourselves in those situations. And even more so when powerful imagery is involved. But as you build your narrative, make sure to respect the dignity of the people involved and always challenge the stereotypes (for more on this topic, see this post on reframing the message in international development).

5. Introduce the (possible) solution

So there is a problem and there is someone or something being affected by that problem. You have a solution and it’s proven to work. Or maybe you haven’t used it yet but you have the evidence that it can work. The important thing is that there is a way to solve the problem. To get your donors/supporters on board, you need to explain your approach in a clear, concise and engaging way and highlight its unique selling points. No jargon, no industry lingo. Just ask yourself: if I weren’t working here, would I grasp the concept right away? Would I get excited about it? Would I support it?

6. Show (possible) impact

Show your (potential) donors what impact your work has generated or can generate with a little bit of help from their side. For existing donors, it is important to see how their donations are being put to use and for potential donors it is important to see what their donations could turn into. Showing impact builds trust and brings hope.

7. Don’t forget the call to action

So you’ve wrapped up your story. And it’s powerful. People are engaged and ready to do their part. This is the moment to ask them to take action. No call to action is a missed opportunity. Remember tip no. 1: have a clear purpose? This is where it all comes together. Get people to click, donate, download, sign. If they love your story, they will follow through.

8. Put your heroes in the spotlight

Every NGO has its heroes, the people in the front line, working hard every day to make a change in their communities or in their environment. These are the people driving your organisation’s impact. Your champions. So make sure to put them in the spotlight. Think video interviews, portrait photos, event speeches.

9. Use new tech for an extra edge

Let emerging technologies get your creative juices flowing. Why not try some virtual reality to better immerse your donors into your story or some drone shots for a different perspective of your projects? All this, combined with live video and powerful photography can give an extra edge to your NGO’s story. Start experimenting and you might discover some totally new angles in your storytelling.

10. Quality is key

This might sound obvious but it cannot be emphasised enough. No matter how good your storyline, if your videos are shaky or have bad sound or poor lighting, your texts have typos or grammar mistakes, your photos are blurry or the tone does not resonate with your audience, well, the story will not be received well, that’s for sure. So make sure you invest in a good editor, a good photographer, a good video crew and a good designer and you’ll soon notice the results.

11. Promote and re-purpose

The same story can take multiple forms, from a journal or a blog post to a photo story, a video, an animation or even a presentation. But regardless of the content, the essence will stay the same. Remember the focus on one message in tip 2. It really comes in handy when you start re-purposing your story. Why re-purpose? Because your donors might be using content in different ways depending on their interests and demographics. And because you can extend the life of your story and ensure a good bundle of content for a while. It’s good return on investment. And once you have your story in various formats, make sure you keep promoting it on various occasions. Don’t forget it in a corner. You’ve worked hard on it.

What other tactics do you use in your storytelling? Feel free to share them in the comments below.

Struggling to tell your NGO’s story in a way that engages your donors and prompts them to take action? Let’s work together to create a value proposition and key messages that resonate with your audience. Get in touch for a consultation. 

Published on 15 December 2017 by Laura Tufis. The post was initially published on Beyond Borders Media.

Photo credit: Anastasia Zhenina, Unsplash