Why Your Organization Needs a Good Storyteller

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Matthew Snyder. Matthew is a twenty-something writer and world-changer. He likes to share ideas and is actively involved in the modern-day abolitionist movement. You can follow him on Twitter @matthewlasnyder and like him on Facebook.

Rudyard Kipling said, “If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.” Most organizations have forgotten the art of storytelling, which is why their messages aren’t being remembered.

Photo credit: Jilly Clardy (Creative Commons)
Photo credit: Jill Clardy

For a while, there was a resurgence of the importance of sharing stories, but then like most fads, it began to fade away. The trend has once again become facts, statistics, and the incessant boasting of what country is suffering from the greatest injustice.

This needs to change.

I grew up in the generation that made it “cool” to start your own 501(c)(3). My peers found tremendous value in doing good in the world. But the number of non-profits that have had to recently close their doors is unnerving.

Whether it was due to lack of funding, poor leadership, or just plain discouragement, the core reason is the same: Their message wasn’t being heard.

One of the biggest mistakes non-profits (and other organizations) make is they don’t actively engage in the art of telling stories. They wonder why their messages aren’t going viral and why their campaigns and strategies seem to never work.

If this sounds like you, here are some points to remember:

Statistics don’t go viral, stories do

People don’t relate to statistics. Sure, they can communicate a broad scope of things. But your audience isn’t going to remember whether it was 16,000 or 25,000 people around the world who die of hunger every day.

What they will remember is the story of the six-year-old in Swaziland who walks seven miles every day for lunch.

What’s going to motivate you to give: numbers or narratives? Do you even have engaging stories to share? Better get started.

Social media is your biggest ally

Don’t deny the pros of engaging in the diverse culture of social media.

For example, Twitter is a great place to share news and introduce people to content. Facebook is a wonderful platform to interact with people and really get them to wrestle with and share your content.

If Facebook boasts of nearly 750 million active users who push around more than 30 billion pieces of content each month, what are you doing to get your message to stand out from the rest?

Do you have even a strategy? You don’t have time to waste on this.

People pay attention to creativity

What’s going to make you sit up and notice your message — a bullet point list of facts or an engaging story that illustrates?

I will always watch an artfully crafted video before I read a ten-page blog post. So will most of your audience.

Don’t neglect this one important detail when it comes to storytelling: be creative.

  • Invest in a graphic designer.
  • Invest in a videographer.
  • Invest someone who can creatively share your stories.

It’s that kind of investment that can mean the difference between success and failure. Never underestimate the value that creativity can add to your message.

Like Kipling, I believe that the history will not be forgotten if it’s shared through stories. And it’s my hope that my generation maintains a grasp on this potent art of creative storytelling. I would hate to see us become another statistic.

If you need help boosting your storytelling-abilities, I would love to connect with you.

How have you seen non-profit organizations creatively and effectively spread their message? What’s a story you remember? Share in the comments.

35 thoughts on “Why Your Organization Needs a Good Storyteller

  1. This is so true. You can see it from advertising to teaching to political propaganda. Stories engage us on an emotional level. When combined with data, it’s a pretty powerful one-two punch.
    My wife is involved with a local pregnancy support center. They had a banquet where they talked about some of the mothers that chose not to abort their babies – and pictures and videos of the babies were passed around. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

  2. My favorite is Living Water International. They are the folks behind the Advent Conspiracy compaign – to worship fully, spend less, give more and love all. They gave statistics in a powerful narrative, their web site contains video stories of people…it definitely drew me in. Any of the branding consultation or design work I do, I give a tenth of the invoice to Living Water. They were that good.

  3. Love it. I work for a non profit that packages meals (numanainc.com). When I give presentations, I share about 3 statistics and that is it. The rest is focused on telling our story and trying to allow people to become a part of that story. Great stuff, it articulated a lot of what I believe and brought out some things that I haven’t thought of yet.

  4. The most recent example that comes to mind is the way Compassion and World Vision sends well known bloggers on trips.  The way these bloggers communicates what they’ve seen and heard often translates to more children being sponsored.  Certain stories I’ve read will stick with me for a long time to come.

    1. I totally agree. It’s amazing what happens (and what stories get shared) when you get influencers involved. I remember Adventures In Missions (AIM) did that after the earthquake in Haiti at the beginning of last year. The bloggers’ stories were powerful!

  5. This is so true.  All the lessons that have stuck with me over the years were taught by stories.  It’s why I do things like the Parable Project: people remember stories and can absorb more layers of meaning through them than they can from cold, hard facts.

      1. So, this is kind of off topic, but it’s about the photo.  I use Creative Commons to find my blog photos most of the time.  The East of Eden quote pic has a Getty license on it even though it’s in Creative Commons and the license without the Getty stuff would allow its use freely.  When you see the Getty Images symbol do you get extra permissions or do you just go by the Creative Commons license?  See, I told you it was off topic.  I tend to shy away from them even though they’re often just the image I need.

        And this was a great post.  Stories with the right amount of detail make us feel truth not just think about it.

          1. My understanding is that if it has the CC logo on it, you can use it. That said, I steer clear from Getty usually. Worst case scenario, someone will give you a cease-and-desist, and you just remove it, if you’re in violation.

  6. Good storytelling rocks. I’ve always wondered why bank employees are called “tellers.” Because they can tell me my balance? And the German word “Teller” means plate. Next time you’re having lunch, ask what your plate is telling you. 

  7. Great post – I had the opportunity to work full-time for the YMCA here in Richmond, and as everyone knows (or should!), it’s a major non-profit organization. My department was Wellness, but all of us full-timers worked together as a team…especially when it came to fundraising for our community outreach programs. One of the biggest struggles we faced, surprisingly, was getting the message across that the Y is not in competition with the other fitness centers around…there was a serious disconnect between people understanding what the Y’s mission was all about and how it was not, in fact, a “gym and swim” facility by itself. The Y is a charity. So, as part of fundraising, the Y came out with “story-tellers” to help get out the message; verily, we recruited volunteers to go out into the community and share a story about the work of the Y. It’s a great way to illustrate the message of your organization emotionally, as opposed to statistically – just as you said in your blog. Very cool – keep up the good work!

  8. When I was in charge of the monthly consituent newsletter of a local non-profit and people asked me what I did for a living, I would simply tell them I was a modern-day storyteller. It was my job to listen to the stories of the people we served and then relate those stories to our donors in a way that encouraged both inspiration and donation. No matter how many grants we received or marketing pieces we mailed, that monthly newsletter was always our number one source of generated income. Just goes to show the power of a good story.

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  11. Great stuff, it articulated a lot of what I believe and brought out some things that I haven’t thought of yet. Once I ordered an article in essay master and when I read it I had the same reaction. There are people with talent for writing and their thoughts are something new and extraordinary.

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