Biggest Mistakes Nonprofits Make in Storytelling

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Biggest Mistakes Nonprofits Make in Storytelling

In this blog series, we are addressing the biggest mistakes that nonprofits tend to make. It has to be said that when it comes to being a nonprofit, life isn’t easy. Between limited resources and a frequent lack of funding, nonprofits have to work extra hard to make their mission a reality.

Part III: Storytelling

Humans love a great story. We live through stories all day long and make up new ones when we sleep. Thus, it is no surprise that stories are at the center of fundraising and communication strategies. Stories help to connect the hearts of the beneficiaries, the hearts of the supporters, and the work that your organization is offering to the community. There are several guidelines that need to be considered when preparing your organization’s storytelling. Let’s take a look at the biggest mistakes that nonprofit professionals make when it comes to storytelling.

You get too personal

There is a fine line between compassionate storytelling and sharing too many details of an individual’s life. Want to get down to the nitty gritty? Be sure to ask permission first. Your organization should have a disclosure agreement with any beneficiary whose story will be made public. That individual has the power to decide whether their name and photo will be shared alongside their story. Always offer the option to change their name and other personal details so that they can remain anonymous. This is incredibly important, especially when it comes to work where the beneficiary was ever in physical danger or experienced trauma.

You don’t empower the protagonist

One of my greatest pet peeves when it comes to storytelling is the tendency to victimize the beneficiary. Just because they have gone through a tragic time, that does not mean they deserve to be targeted as just a victim receiving services. Instead of just explaining the unfortunate circumstances that your protagonist has experienced, also show the light at the end of the tunnel. Allow the protagonist to be empowered and embark on a new journey — not only because the organization was able to support them, but also because they have the courage and strength to move forward. 

You don’t use great photos

A picture is worth a thousand words. This is a sticky issue because every photo that will be made public needs clearance from the beneficiary. Another one of my pet peeves is the way that many organizations share only really sad photos to pull on the heartstrings of their supporters. The problem here is that your beneficiaries, let’s say the sad faces of homeless children, do not deserve to become a posterboard for your organization. We must maintain the dignity of those we support. Why share a photo of a child crying when you could instead post their smiling faces after eating a delicious meal? Be sure to always have approval to take the photo and to publish the photo. Your organization should always bring along copies of photo release agreement forms, and if you plan to take photos of children, please be sure that a parent or guardian has given their consent. Also, be sure to take good quality photos. Having a few photographer volunteers (whether professionals or enthusiasts) on board can ensure that you get the shots that deliver the message you’re looking for.

You don’t make your point

You can’t write a story just to write a story. It must have a purpose and connect the reader back to how they can make an impact. You must be certain to connect this individual’s story back to the work your organization has done. Always be sure to include a call to action connected with the story, whether that invites the reader to learn more, sign up for a newsletter, make a donation, or get involved in some way.

You don’t spread the message

Once you’ve got your great story written, you must share it! It doesn’t do any good sitting online in a place where no one will find it. You must incorporate it into your communications or social media strategy. Send it out in a newsletter, post it on your social media channels, or send a personal email to supporters who would love to read it. Get it out there!

Want to talk with us about improving your nonprofit’s storytelling? We would love to help! Contact us today.