5 Ways Your Grantees Can Use Storytelling to Prove Impact

-And How You Can Help

This impact storytelling article was originally published on July 20, 2023 by BlackBaud.

Your grantees are doing incredible boots-on-the-ground work every day. Their programs are well-run. Their staff members are intelligent and engaging. Their volunteers are energized. Their finances are transparent. 

You’ve done your due diligence and you know they are making a real difference.
After all, you have chosen them for a reason – Kudos to YOU, grantmaker!
You name the issue, and there is an incredible organization working hard to overcome it. 

Or two organizations. 
Or twenty-five organizations. 
Or, sometimes, one hundred or more.
So how do you make sure your grantee’s work stands above the rest?

Impact numbers are a great way to demonstrate the positive changes your organization has provided. But, to the outside world, impact numbers can be challenging to conceptualize. That’s why we recommend contextualizing your impact numbers with a powerful story.

By sharing compelling stories that highlight the real-life transformations resulting from their work, your grantees can demonstrate the impact they have on their communities. Let’s explore 5 ways to prove impact through storytelling (and how YOU, the grantmaker, can help):

  1. Get Up Close & Personal: Encourage your grantees to share personal stories directly from the beneficiaries of their programs. When potential donors and stakeholders hear about individual experiences, they can better understand the effect of the grantee’s work by seeing themselves in the story. 

    For example, if a grantee runs an educational program, they could share a story about a student who improved their grades or gained admission into college due to the program. Your role as a grantmaker could involve providing guidance on ethical and trauma-informed storytelling practices, ensuring that an individual’s story is shared with dignity and respect.

    It is important to note that not all people are natural-born storytellers. Therefore, we recommend asking great questions or provide thought-provoking prompts that will lead the storyteller to share memorable, compelling, shareable content. To get started, share these 20 Storytelling Interview Questions to Capture Great Stories with your grantees. 
  1. Make the Abstract Concrete: Many community issues are complex and intangible, making it difficult for the general public to grasp the magnitude of the problem and the subsequent impact. By using storytelling, nonprofits can translate abstract concepts into relatable narratives that capture the attention and empathy of their audience.

    As a bonus, providing context that associates emotion with an abstract concept can create a ripple effect that inspires others to seek assistance from your grantees when they are in need.
  1. Highlight the Journey: We’ve all heard the token road trip saying: It’s not about the destination – it’s about the journey. We believe that rings true when it comes to telling stories! Instruct your grantees to not just focus on the end result, but also the process leading to that result. Understanding the journey, including challenges faced and how they were overcome, adds depth to their impact story and allows humans to find relatable aspects. memoryfox donor stewardship scavenger hunt

    Challenge your grantees to collect stories at every stage of a project – not just the nice tied-up-with-a-bow ending. If you’re interested in building journey-focused stories, but you are not quite sure where to start, check out 6 steps to crafting a powerful story
  1. Incorporate Various Formats: Advise your grantees to use various formats to share their stories. You know the common types: blog posts, videos, podcasts, social media posts, email newsletters, direct mail – the list goes on and on. Oftentimes, grantees feel they cannot share the same story in multiple formats, but we disagree! 

    Stakeholders, donors, and the general public all have distinct preferences when it comes to consuming information. Some may prefer videos that offer a glimpse into the fieldwork, while others may find written testimonials far more compelling. By incorporating diverse multimedia elements, your grantees can deliver a personalized and engaging experience for each audience. For example, if your goal is to connect with a younger audience, check out these ways we recommend using storytelling to reach Millennials and Gen-Z
  1. Elevate Diverse Voices: Featuring stories from individuals of various backgrounds, age groups, and demographics showcase the organization’s ability to reach and positively affect a diverse community. These stories will not only demonstrate the size of the impact but also emphasize the nonprofit’s commitment to inclusivity and equality.

    When you use a story collection tool, you put the power of storytelling directly in the hands of your community, which gives a voice to those who historically have not always been heard. At its core, storytelling is a tool that connects people across cultures, generations, socio-economic backgrounds, and beyond. No amount of impact numbers can convey the same feeling as giving a voice to those who were previously unheard.

Storytelling has the power to move hearts and minds. When used effectively, it can transform your grantees’ work from abstract concepts into tangible realities, which will demonstrate their impact in a meaningful way. As a grantmaker, you have the power to unlock this potential, providing the resources that support your grantees need to tell their stories effectively.

About the Author

Celine Krzan
Community Manager, MemoryFox

Celine has storytelling in her bones. A theater major, she is well-versed in the power of words and emotion. She is extremely dedicated to the WNY Region economic and job development, giving others the opportunity to pursue their passion and develop through the arts.