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Five ways to improve your storytelling results in 2016

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Does your nonprofit have ambitious goals for 2016? Is telling more stories one of them?

Many organizations are trying to figure out how to tell stories about their organization and (ideally) raise money with the stories they tell. This goal is not an impossibility. Stories do improve fundraising results.

In The State of Storytelling – a whitepaper published by Network For Good – 82% of the participating nonprofits cited using stories in fundraising materials and many had increases in fundraising revenue when telling stories. One participating organization cited that when they updated their thank you letters to include a story, their donor retention rate increased to 75%! How can your organization get these kind of results? Here are five ways to improve your storytelling results in 2016.

1. In fundraising stories, make the donor the hero.

One of the biggest mistakes the nonprofits make in storytelling is making their organization the hero of the story. Now this might seem counter-intuitive but the real hero of the story is the donor. Why? By making a gift, the donor makes the work and the outcomes possible. What we need to do is make sure this message of gratitude is clearly conveyed in our stories.

Union Gospel Mission in Vancouver produces a quarterly newsletter for donors that does a great job of highlighting donor impact and making donors the heroes of every story.

2. Make the story visual.

The most common type of nonprofit storytelling is written stories. These often appear in direct mail, donor newsletters, on websites, in emails, and so on. But this is just one way to tell a story and it may not always be the most engaging option. Consider telling the story through photos, video, or even audio. If you use one of these options, it doesn’t have to have a high production value. In fact, sometimes the less-than-perfect cuts have a great authenticity to them.

Ecojustice had a great video on their website that explains their approach and tells their story.

3. Measure the outcomes of the stories you tell.

If you really want to improve the outcomes of the stories you tell, you have to measure the outcomes of your stories. How much money did it raise? How many clicks did it get? How many shares did the story get? These are all relevant and important metrics that can tell us what our audience likes the most. And when we know what our audience responds so, we can create more of that and increase our success.

Consider creating a spreadsheet that you can use to track your metrics on a quarterly or monthly basis.

4. Re-tell your stories.

Many nonprofits worry about telling the same story too many times and boring their audience. But the thing to remember is that just because you’ve told the story, does not mean that everyone is going to see that story. As you look at your analytics (see #3), you’ll realize that it’s usually only one segment of your audience who sees the story. So if you have a story that performed well, it would be advantageous to re-tell that story in the hopes of getting more people to tell it.

The other approach you could take is to tell the story in a different way. For example, maybe you wrote the story the first time around. The second time, you could tell the stories through pictures. You could also tell the story from a different perspective.

5. Include a call to action.

So many stories are terrific and get the reader excited, but then they abruptly end. And worse yet, there is no obvious way for readers to do or learn more. There is no next step. This is low hanging fruit. By simply including a call to action at the end of your story, you’ll be giving people a way to be involved in the story. Make sure your call to action is specific, urgent, and has a deadline.

WAVAW Rape Crisis Centre does a great job using a call to action in this email.

Which of these five tips will you try in your next story?

Vanessa Chase Lockshin is the President of The Storytelling Non-Profit – a consulting group that helps non-profit organizations raise more money by telling their stories. She also hosts and produces a FREE online conference for non-profit professionals called The Storytelling Non-Profit Virtual Conference from February 10 to 12, 2016.

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