How to harness the power of storytelling

Telling stories is fundamental to what charities do. Sharing the powerful human stories behind your cause is one of the most effective ways to create that all-important emotional connection -the connection that inspires people to volunteer, participate and donate. But with so many charities seeking to work the storytelling angle, how do you make sure yours is the one that cuts through? Keep reading and you will soon find out.

The most cost-effective tool in your marketing toolkit

The beauty of storytelling is that it doesn’t require big above-the-line ad spends, expensive celebrity endorsements or gimmicky challenges. It can be just as effective a marketing tool for small charities as it is for multinational organisations.

Whether they realise it or not, most charities have a wealth of storytelling talent at their fingertips. From the volunteers who’ve been inspired to give up their time and the supporters undertaking grueling physical challenges right through to the individuals who benefit from the work you do, within every organisation there are countless human stories waiting to be told.

But how exactly do you bring these stories to life and (most importantly) use them to inspire action? Especially when budget and resources are limited?

7 tips to enhance your storytelling skills


Make it visual. They say a picture paints a thousand words, so it should come as no surprise to learn that powerful imagery can tell a story all by itself. Instagram is a fantastic medium for visual storytelling because it’s so image-driven – and you can use the caption to provide as much additional context as you like. World Vision is a great example of a nonprofit using visual storytelling to great effect on social media.

Film can also be an incredibly impactful medium because it’s so immediate and typically offers an unfiltered take on the story. Nor does it have to be an expensive or time-consuming exercise, particularly in the era of smartphones. Just sitting your subject in a room and recording their emotions and expressions as they share their story with you face-to-face can be as compelling as any big-budget production. Remember, what matters most is the story and the content – not the equipment you’re using.

Get your supporters involved. Another way to use video without incurring high costs is to empower your supporters to create their own. UK-based mental health charity Mind does this really well, inviting supporters and those who’ve experienced mental health issues to record their stories and create video blogs (which they call ‘mental health selfies’) using their smartphones.

Remember, it’s not about you. While your charity should of course feature somewhere in your piece, start with the human story first. The priority isn’t to wax lyrical about your cause, it’s to tell the story as powerfully and honestly as you can. If you get that bit right, then promoting the work your charity does will be a natural by-product.

Swap facts for faces. In the same way, you may be used to building your pitch around compelling statistics but remember that good storytelling is about much more than the numbers. Again, put the people in your story centre stage, and let the facts and figures play a supporting role.

Make it inspiring. Positive emotion trumps negative every time. Rather than telling a sad story designed to trigger feelings of guilt or pity, find one which demonstrates how someone overcame adversity or used a negative event in their lives to create positive change. These are the stories that compel people to act and show potential donors how their support can have a positive impact. Think of your favourite movie or novel: in almost every great story the central protagonist goes through a character arc, experiencing highs and lows, challenges and conflicts that ultimately shape who they are as a person. If you can present your subject’s story in a similar fashion, the end result will be all the more satisfying and inspiring.

Empower donors to become part of the story. Wrap things up with a simple ask that encourages the viewer or reader to take action – for example by donating to your cause, sharing the story, or signing up to volunteer. This is important, not only because it provides a clear call-to-action that will help with conversion, but because it leaves your audience feeling empowered. They aren’t just passive recipients of the story – they too can get involved and make a difference.

Share it with the world. So, you’ve got a great story. Now what? Share it, share it, and then share it some more! If you’ve posted it on your website, link to it from your Facebook page and encourage supporters to share with their networks. Send your story pitch to local journalists (and if it gets picked up by a news network, share that link too). Include write-ups in your email campaigns, e-newsletters, marketing collateral. You could even use it as the hook for an email appeal. If it’s a powerful story, it will take on a life of its own.

Want to learn more? Register for our Storytelling for Social Impact webinar with Michael Johnston from Momentary here.