You know your work has impact. You see that impact every day. You feel it in your bones. That’s why you get up and go to work every morning. But do your supporters know and understand that impact?
Small organizations often struggle with how to communicate that impact. We live it and breathe it every day and it’s hard to share it with others in a way that they understand and connect with the work.
This week we’re chatting with Shelley and David from RAMP Communications about the process behind impact stories and how to use them effectively and ethically. They share with us how to empower the communities we serve and help them share their experiences in a way that resonates with your supporters and inspires them to take action.
what is an impact story?
Stories are the most effective way to inspire and move people. Instead of sharing statistics or vague information, stories are relatable and emotional. As such, they are the most powerful way to convey the work that we do.
Impact stories are designed to invoke emotion and to get people to take action or change a mindset. The best way to connect with people on that emotional level is to do so with real authentic stories. Authenticity is key. While it’s always been important to use authentic stories, social media has made that even more expected.
creating a culture of storytelling
Often, organizations struggle with how to collect and tell stories appropriately.
The first step is making sure that your leadership team is all on board with the approach that the people that are responsible for the frontline work with your clients are part of the strategy. Make sure they are involved and have a clear understanding of how these stories are going to go out into the world.
When sharing stories of current or past clients, make sure it’s appropriate and then involve them in the process. You need their permission and they have final approvals. Make sure they feel the story is accurate and authentic for them.
encouraging others to share their impact stories
Don't expect someone to be able to write a well-crafted story - interview them and with your goal in mind and ask open-ended questions. Once you start the interview, you will be able to ask deeper questions, and that's when the story will emerge.
When interviewing them, try asking them what they would want people to know about their situation. What about the impact your organization has had on them or their families? We all have amazing stories and aren’t often aware of how interesting they are - encourage and empower them to share their stories and that in doing so, they also greatly contribute to the overarching mission. They don't always see their experience as we see it. Listen and let the story unfold.
Have them imagine that they're just telling a story to a friend - from there, you’ll be able to find the story elements you need to be able to write a compelling impact story that rings true to their experience.
how to write an impact story
It all starts with goals, right? Think about the goal of this piece of communication - ask yourself, “What do I want people to know, think and believe about my organization? What do I want them to do?” The other thing to consider is your target audience - who are you trying to reach with the story? While the simple answer might be anybody and everybody who can donate, there's going to be the kind of person who will resonate more strongly with what you're doing or what that goal is. Once you’ve understood who you’re targeting, you can create an editorial schedule, a series of topics or things that will help you get those key messages across to that target in a very relevant way.
It may be tempting to go straight into brainstorming tactics without necessarily knowing or having a strategy. You need to understand how any action will achieve the desired outcome of getting volunteers, donations or awareness. If you want your organization to align with something so that everybody is really committed and passionate around that same main message, you need to break down those silos between different parts of your organization and help everybody in the organization. That way, everyone is able to tell stories that are all really aligned and directed to those goals.
it’s okay to recycle your content!
One of the things that Shelley and David hear from a lot of organizations is that finding these stories can be really challenging especially if you’re a fundraiser and not necessarily working on the front-line. Or you might have a treasure chest of stories, but you can't actually use them because it would either compromise your clients or they haven't been collected in a way that gets all the right permissions and understands the power dynamics and all of that.
If you've got all this content, one way to present it is to repurpose them by changing up the order slightly. Instead of working from the beginning and talking about where they started, perhaps start from where they are now as an inspirational story that fuels hope for others. David suggests the compelling part is where the person ended up and then backtrack as to how they got there. You want to grab people right away right with something very engaging at the front end something dramatic because you want people to continue to read. Organize the information in a way that's going to be the most effective and resonate with your donors, even if they have heard similar stories before.
If anything, David also suggests hiring a copywriter if you need to and make sure that the story is crafted well and is engaging because you want people to get from the beginning to the end of it.
telling the same story in different ways
In this day and age, there are so many ways people receive news - social media channels, email, video and so forth. When repurposing stories, you may find that different mediums call for different ways of presenting that story. For instance, your strategy may include a short social media post or an email that will draw people in and encourage them to click on a link leading them to a longer blog post or a video.
The story may be framed differently in each of those different contexts to match the goal - whether that is to get them to volunteer, donate or seek out more information. The best way to do this is to think about what you’d like your audience to do, think and feel. Be sure that you have a communication objective or goal you’d like to achieve within the story. What are your key messages? This helps ensure that whoever telling the story has a natural way of relaying the story back to your audience. Leaving those key messages in and framing the story in a way that actually positions the organization in the way you want it positioned is really important.
If you're telling a story through a video interview, be mindful of how you're gathering that content. You might think you're only doing a short story, but Shelley suggests doing a long interview and getting as much information as you can. The original deliverable was intended to be maybe a short social media posts, but maybe it could be turned into something long after the fact. When you're collecting the story, don’t be fixed on the channel that the story is going to be used in, but instead, collect enough information that you can really use it in a variety of ways going forward can be important too.
If it is a digital component, it's going to be a very short bite that will try and get people interested in learning more about a story. An email might be longer a blog posts will certainly be longer and you might be leading people to that. The larger goal of the campaign, and it'll be executed differently at different touchpoints.
keeping the story authentic
Shelley says that the most simple consideration when it comes to writing an impact story is whether or not you’ll be writing in the first person where you’ll be speaking directly from personal experience or third-person reporting about someone else’s experience. If you are writing in the third person, you have to be very careful with the structure and tone of your piece. Be careful not to use the language necessarily of your organization or your business, use casual language that's appropriate to the person or the subject matter that you're talking about. Use as much of the language of coming directly from those from that person's word when relaying their story.
When visually portraying the story, you can keep it authentic by accompanying the piece with a real, professional-looking photo of the real person that the stories about - it’s worth the investment to get a photographer to take a photo if possible. If you’re able to, you can include their real name to keep the story authentic. However, there are definitely times where the storyteller may be in a certain situation where there's an extreme amount of confidentiality or there's a security concern and you can't portray that real person, photo and name. In that case, despite using a different name or photo, you can specify at the bottom that while the name and photo have been changed, the story remains true to that person’s experience.
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Resources from this Episode
The Good Partnership Guide
Episode Recap and Tips
You may find it useful to review our episode with Vanessa Chase Lockshin about how to craft stories to raise more money
The Small Nonprofit is produced by Eloisa Jane Mariano