Do you think someone will spend more than these few seconds on a wordy report about the project your organization just completed? But what about a snappy photo slideshow that tells the story of the same content?
Being able to succinctly tell a compelling story about your organization and the people you are helping is a critical aspect of the work of a nonprofit. In today’s digital age, new media and Internet technologies have provided avenues for telling these stories in powerful and far-reaching ways.
As Cheryl A. Clarke explains in her book Storytelling for Grantseekers: The Guide to Creative Nonprofit Fundraising, trying to get a grant is a “creative process” that revolves around the story the grantseeker tells. “The story is about people being helped, and their lives possibly being changed forever, because of the services provided by a nonprofit agency. There is great drama and excitement in these stories! They are compelling, and they deserve to be told effectively.”
Storytelling has long been integral to the work of nonprofits. In 1787 the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade mounted what the Case Foundation refers to as the first modern public awareness campaign. It combined carefully researched statistics and facts with harrowing details to tell stories about the conditions of slave life and gain support for the abolition of slavery.
Since the 18th century, storytelling techniques and venues have evolved. Using anecdotes, nonprofits have been able to convey the depth of problems and the potential of nonprofit-provided solutions. The explosive growth of the Internet has provided an opportunity for even more evolution.
In many ways, the Internet is central to the work of nonprofit agencies. According to Vinay Bhagat’s Article “How to Make the Most of your E-Philanthropy”, in 1999 fewer than 15% of nonprofits had their own web site. Now, having a web site is a virtual necessity (pun absolutely intended). Similarly, the online marketplace for donations has grown immensely. In 2000, nonprofits raised approximately $250 million online. By 2006, the figure was $5 billion, and this number continues to rise. According to Michael Hoffman of See3, YouTube is now the fourth largest web site in the world, a fact that points to the potential for user-generated video content to be widely disseminated.
All of this provides evidence that the Internet can be effectively used to share stories about your work with potential supporters. The Foundation Center invites you to hear Allan Pressel, CEO and Founder of CharityFinders, discuss Effective Online Storytelling on Friday August 20, from 10:00 am to 12:00 pm. CharityFinders works with nonprofits to help them use the Internet to further their missions.
Pressel will provide advice for nonprofit agencies on such questions as:
- What stories should you tell?
- How should stories be integrated into your web site?
- What types of images should you incorporate—including video—and how do you do it?
- What’s the difference between telling stories online versus off-line?
- What Web 2.0 communication technologies should you incorporate?
We hope to see you at the Foundation Center's New York library/learning center on Friday, but until then, check out how these different nonprofits took exemplary advantage of online storytelling techniques (list compiled by the Case Foundation):
- The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s World Is Witness blog uses Google maps and text updates to document areas at risk of genocide.
- Charity: Water’s Give up your birthday campaign to support water projects uses info graphics to show the impact of donations.
- World Food Programme’s On the road video blog uses voices of the people working to address hunger in the field.
- Houston Ballet uses photos to give supporters a peak backstage.
- New Zealand’s Genesis Energy developed ElectroCity—a game that lets players plan and manage a virtual town, balancing energy and sustainability concerns.
- Conservation International’s eNews Update uses moving photos and links about top news to keep supporters in the loop.
Do you have examples of your own storytelling online or that of a colleague organization you admire? Share them here!
“A story communicates fear, hope, and anxiety, and because we can feel it, we get the moral not just the concept, but as a teaching of our hearts. That’s the power of story.” -Marshall Ganz
-- Reilly Kiernan, Educational Services Fellow