Monday, April 29, 2013

Nonprofit stories: The untapped resource

By Jessica Banda

What is the "American Dream?" A house in the suburbs? A family of four? A life better than the one your parents enjoyed? Actually, the “American Dream” is a story! It is a story of a single individual overcoming the odds to achieve unexpected success. People abandon their homelands for this story; they go to war for this story.

The power of the nonprofit story

If you can sustain a country on a story, what else can you do with a story? Motivate volunteers? Inspire Clients? Secure Donations? Stories are the greatest untapped resource of the nonprofit community.

Think your nonprofit lacks an appealing story?
If so, perhaps your conception of "story" needs a little updating.

It’s time to re-conceptualize storytelling. Today’s nonprofit stories don’t always come on the front page of a newspaper; many don’t even fill a page. Today’s nonprofit stories are delivered in the form of blog posts, tweets, wall posts, and videos on venues like nonprofit websites, Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, and Blogger. This makes telling your nonprofit story simpler than ever!

Why stories 

Unfortunately for the nonprofit community, the human brain is not designed to remember mission statements. Instead, it is hardwired to remember, and respond to, stories! Using stories to showcase your mission won’t only help people to remember your organization’s reason for being; storytelling has also been shown to increase financial inputs.

What stories to tell

Perhaps you are curious about what type of stories your nonprofit should be telling.
A story of a Krochet Kids Beneficiary 

You can tell stories of your beneficiaries, just like Krochet Kids, an organization who markets and sells clothing handmade by women in Uganda. It’s one thing to describe the mission of female entrepreneurship and empowerment and it is quite another thing to see a beneficiary and hear that because of your purchase her children are able to go to school. Who's ready to buy a Krochet Kids product after reading this?

A Story of a GUTS Staff Member

You can also tell the story of your staff and show staff diligently working toward your mission, just like Harvard GUTS, a research project at Harvard University that tracks the health of a cohort of women over their lifetime to understand how lifestyle choices impact disease. As a participant in the study, I immediately filled out the survey (which I had been putting off) when I saw this post on my Facebook mini-feed. You can move your clients to action with simple stories like these.

A Story of a Peace Corps Volunteer 

You can tell the story of your volunteers living out your mission, just like the Peace Corps. It is one thing to hear that the Peace Corps strives to empower communities and quite another thing to see volunteers living out the mission by teaching leadership to young women in Georgia.

A Story of UNICEF Donors

You can even tell the story of your donors, especially if they are cute children, like UNICEF’s cohort of Elementary school children who raised $16,000 to provide desks for children in Malawi. Now UNICEF could have said, "if elementary school children can do it, why can't you," however, sometimes a story can do the same job with more finesse.

7 easy ways to collect nonprofit stories

But wait, you're busy and overworked and no one on your staff has extra time to go about collecting stories. Collecting stories is probably easier than you think; try these simple, and fun, tactics for story collection.

  1. Open staff meetings with a brief  staff “ story-time” 
  2. Collecting data? Add a qualitative question. 
  3. Create a voicemail account where staff/volunteers can call and narrate stories from the field 
  4. Let your beneficiaries tell their own story. Create an e-mail account ( like and ask beneficiaries to e-mail a description of how your services helped them. 
  5. Provide a camera for checkout and ask staff to capture photos
  6. Create a “story contest” with a small prize for the best story. Then, use the stories you collect all year.
  7. Designate a part-time volunteer or intern to storytelling

Additional resources

Tips from expert storytellers 8 Examples of Nonprofit Stories
Selling better with stories


  1. Hello Jessica,
    a great post! I thought you developed this topic very well.
    Could you be more specific about "story time" at staff meetings?

  2. Hello! What I mean "story time at staff meetings" is having a tradition of starting each staff meeting with a story "from the field." This way staff would have a chance to share their experiences and over time they would begin to become habituated to thinking of stories, which, of course, would be beneficial to the organization. Additionally, it would give staff a chance to learn from one another!

  3. Jessica,
    this was an absolutely delightful and a seriously impacting blog! Not only have you led the class all semester, I think this blog takes the cake! It was funny, touching and deadly on point. I personally love all the questions and I thought it was perfect to compare storytelling with the creation of the country.

    You Rock,


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