Who’s listening to your not-for-profit story?

A pile of story books with a mug on top of them

Once upon a time, in a land not far away, there was a woman who lived her life to spread the power of communication. She wanted to make a difference to the world we live in and so she worked with charities and not-for-profits to help them change the world for the better.

Each member of staff grew to understand their role and how their work contributed to eradicating poverty. The woman’s passion and enthusiasm for effective communication was contagious and soon everyone understood how to talk to each other and the world was a better place.

OK, so I might not get my fairy-tale ending just yet, but I do believe in the power of story-telling. Last week I attended the online Storyfest festival from CharityComms. It was useful to look at stories through the lens of our current times.

A well-told story has perhaps never been more important for our entire sector. A theme that came through almost every presentation was the need to plan who you are telling your stories to and why.

Taking action

It can be all too easy to believe that you are telling your organisational story and then to find that your target audiences don’t know it. Or don’t understand it. And this presents a problem for the effectiveness of your organisation. Now more than ever you need people to understand what you stand for and the difference you make in the world. Then they can choose to take action and support you.

In a world that is full of stories, you need yours to resonate and be heard by your target audiences. This bit is important: it’s easy to think that your story needs to cut through ALL noise and for EVERYONE to hear it. But that’s often not really the case. Instead, you need the people who can help you achieve your goals to engage with your story and take action.

Who are you talking to?

Here are some groups you might want to hear your story and why. Look at your organisation strategy to guide you in identifying which audiences you need to communicate with:

Employees – when they understand and engage with your story, they are your best advocates and will contribute as much as they can to achieving your organisational aims.

Volunteers – they also need to know what they are part of and feel motivated to keep giving their time and skills. Potential volunteers may have many options available to them – your story needs to speak to them and inspire them to choose you.

Funders – the challenges caused by the cost of living crisis, climate emergency and growing global uncertainty mean that charities’ stories must be stronger than ever. Choose your funders carefully, look at what they say is important to them right now and put those elements in the stories you tell in your applications.

Supporters – there are many motivations for supporting a not for profit and your organisation’s story needs to tie in to the reasons your supporters have chosen you. This won’t be exactly the same for all, but there is likely to be a common thread.

Members – a good, engaging story helps to illustrate the value you are adding to your members. With budgets being squeezed, if they don’t understand what they’re part of and why, you may find their subscription is not renewed.

Local politicians – this group are concerned about the local communities they represent. If you are looking for connections with or actions from them, your story needs to demonstrate how you are making things better locally.

Which story?

You might be able to use the same story for different audiences. But be sure that it is framed in a way that they will connect with. If they have different motivations, you might need to highlight different parts of that story to appeal to them.

For example, you might choose to tell the same story but from two different participants’ perspectives. Or you might tell the same story but with a different tone of voice for each audience group.

Which groups are you trying to tell your story to? And why?

If you need help identifying your audiences and crafting your story, please get in touch.

Until next time

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