5 Reasons Nonprofits Should Embrace Storytelling

There’s an iconic episode of AMC’s hit series Mad Men in which ad executive Don Draper gets the opportunity to pitch Kodak on a campaign to market its fancy new slide projector. In his meeting with the Kodak bigwigs, Don uses his own family photographs to showcase the projector as a carousel — one that allows purchasers to move through time and wax nostalgic.

The pitch has a striking effect on the folks in the room, marking another win for Sterling Cooper and forcing some of the characters to dig deep and reflect on relations with their own loved ones. And while yesteryear’s slide projectors have been replaced by devices that can fit in one hand, the tenet of Don’s winning pitch still holds true: a story, told by visuals, pulls at the heartstrings in a big way.

While Don employed visual storytelling to secure a new client, nonprofit storytelling can use it to win over the communities and stakeholders that are most important to them and, ultimately, inspire them to take action.

For nonprofits, telling your story — and empowering others to tell it on your behalf — is essential in building and sustaining those critical connections with your communities, volunteers, beneficiaries, donors, partners, and other key stakeholders that keep your organizations moving. And these days, even more so than in the era of slide projectors and Don Draper, visual content must be part of the equation.

5 Reasons Nonprofits Should Embrace Storytelling

But, just in case you weren’t won over by Don’s carousel pitch, here are 5 reasons your nonprofit should embrace and integrate visual storytelling into your marketing and development efforts:

1. Storytelling Puts a Human Face to the Work You Do

The United States alone is home to approximately 1.5 million nonprofit organizations. Suffice to say, people have plenty of options when deciding where to donate and invest their time, money, and resources. From cancer support groups and animal rescues, to education and social justice initiatives, the nonprofit sector encompasses a wide range of causes and addresses an abundance of needs.

For organizations, this means differentiation is key, and storytelling is one of the most effective ways to do it.

In today’s world of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Tik Tok, photo and video content has never been so important in helping you share your impact with your target audiences. These visuals are no longer just “nice-to-haves,” they’re fundamental — particularly for mission-driven nonprofits and brands that have the most to benefit from humanizing their causes.

Photos and videos can help nonprofits highlight the hardworking individuals behind them, as well as the people and communities they serve. Whether donors are giving $5 or $5 million, they want to know their contributions are making a difference — and as nonprofit leaders, it’s your job to show them!

Donors not only need to trust that their funds are going to employees and board members who will use them responsibly and effectively, they also want assurance that their contributions are making a true difference in the lives of others. Volunteers offering their time are in the same boat.

Visual content makes it easier for nonprofit storytelling to convey the powerful, people-focused stories their target audiences want and need to hear.

2. Nonprofit Storytelling Empowers Advocates for Your Cause

When you’re looking for a new spot to eat dinner, it’s one thing to read on a restaurant’s website that they’re the number-one Italian restaurant in the entire city. It’s another — and much more telling — to read reviews from past patrons on Facebook and Yelp. The same is true when it comes to companies selling products and nonprofits championing a cause. In the age of crowdsourcing and social media, people aren’t satisfied taking your word for it; they want to hear it from someone else.

Nonprofit leaders are used to being their organizations’ own biggest cheerleaders. But empowering others to tell your story for you is what can truly make a difference.

Through storytelling, nonprofits can put a spotlight on the people who have been most directly impacted by their efforts: someone whose life has been changed by volunteering with your team, a student who was able to further their education because of scholarship funds they received from your donors, the family members of an individual affected by cancer who hope to see more funding for a cure. These are the stories that can have the biggest impact and leave the biggest mark.

3. Where the Written Word Fails, Photos and Videos Thrive

Have you ever found yourself struggling to find the right words? You’re certainly not alone. Despite our best efforts, there are times when text just doesn’t cut it. In those cases, videos, and photos can help us do the talking.

And, when it comes to demonstrating impact, nonprofits can’t just tell, they need to show. Imagine an annual report that’s just pages and pages of text — or a social media post with a write-up about a great event but that doesn’t include any pictures. The stories you’re sharing might be important ones but would be much more compelling and memorable with visuals to match.

Every communication, no matter how small, is an opportunity to reach a potential donor, volunteer, partner, or beneficiary. Don’t miss out by overlooking the value photos and videos bring to the table.

4. Stories Stick with Us

There’s a reason your Uncle Larry has been telling the same story of when he and your dad were teenagers at every holiday gathering for the last 30 years. It’s the same reason the stories you read to your kids are the same ones your parents read to you when you were that age and why successful nonprofits and brands have increasingly embraced storytelling as a go-to tactic: stories stick with us.

While a potential volunteer or donor may not know the history of your organization, they’ll remember the video they saw scrolling through Facebook that told the story of a local family experiencing job loss and food insecurity who found resources at your organization’s food pantry.

An area legislator who tours your office may not recall the names of every program and initiative, but she’ll remember the story you shared of a local business owner who was able to keep her doors open thanks to your COVID-19 relief fund.

The facts, figures, and data points that nonprofits invest so much time gathering and reporting certainly have their value, but at the end of the day, these real-life stories of your efforts in action are what resonate and stick with us the most. In nonprofit storytelling, data is important but it is the human stories that people remember.

5. Stories Inspire Us to Act

At the end of the day, the goal of any nonprofit is to inspire people to act: donating, volunteering, signing a petition, contacting public officials, or attending an event. For all the reasons mentioned above, storytelling is an incredibly useful tool in getting people to not only remember your cause, but to take the next step and act.

Future donors and volunteers are everywhere. They’re your neighbors, church members, and fellow parents at your children’s schools. They’re people sitting at home who might come across your Facebook page and philanthropists who might read about your latest program in the news. They’re people in different cities, states, or even across the globe.

For nonprofits, storytelling is about creating emotional connections that move people, wherever they are, to take action. And that’s a powerful thing.

At MemoryFox, we’ve made it easy for nonprofits to tell better stories with our online platform to collect, organize and share compelling video and photo content collected directly from your community. Get in touch with us today to learn how our tool can help take your nonprofit storytelling to the next level (or if you just want to talk about your favorite fictional ad campaigns).