Spreading Your Message: A Guide to Online Storytelling | by Pozible Team



Much of your campaign work involves spreading awareness about your mission online. Use this guide to learn how to be a better online storyteller.

Guest blog post from the Founder and CEO of Morweb.

Picture this: you’ve just wrapped up your latest crowdfunding campaign and are reaching out to supporters to thank them for their contributions. However, when you get in touch with them, they’re grateful for your appreciation but can’t remember your crowdfunding campaign as being particularly notable. In fact, they may not even remember what its specific objective even was.

This kind of situation can happen when your campaigns don’t have a memorable message or story attached to them. In these cases, your loyal supporters may still give to your cause, but they’re less likely to bring it up in conversation with friends and family or otherwise spread the news through word-of-mouth marketing.

You can create more memorable campaigns and better leverage your supporters’ social networks by using effective storytelling techniques. Online storytelling relies on a mix of strong writing and communication skills and the right technology — including campaign pages, social media, blogs, and landing pages designed with the right website builder.

To help your nonprofit use these elements to craft a compelling online message, this article will dive into the following tips:

1. Tell stories about individuals.

2. Present a problem to be solved.

3. Show your organisation’s role in the solution.

4. Use descriptive language.

5. Use visuals to enhance your stories.

Writing your nonprofit’s story may be intimidating at first, but fortunately, you don’t need to be a professional writer to create an engaging message. Use these tips as guidelines to refine your storytelling process, and always keep your core mission and audience in mind to ensure your message is both relevant to your cause and consistent with your brand. Let’s get started.

Stories need characters, and nonprofit stories need characters that your audience can connect to. Getting Attention’s guide to nonprofit storytelling outlines the traits that make a strong, compelling character:

  • Identifiable. Each of your stories’ main characters should be identifiable with a unique name and face. This helps your character feel more real for your audience, building a stronger connection. Consider pairing your stories with photographs of the people whose stories you are sharing to make them even more identifiable.
  • Relatable. Your characters should be relatable to the specific audience you are presenting your story to. For example, if you are trying to improve your volunteer recruitment rates, you might tell a story about a volunteer who was initially unsure about volunteering but had their life changed for the better by donating their time. In this example, the protagonist started off in a similar situation to your main audience, creating a more relatable scenario.
  • Impacted by your nonprofit. While your characters are the protagonists of your story, remember that the focus should always be on your nonprofit and mission. Ensure your nonprofit plays a pivotal role in your characters’ lives with specific emphasis on how whatever conflict they face in the story is resolved by your nonprofit.

You can tell stories about all sorts of individuals, including your donors, volunteers, beneficiaries, staff members, board members, founders, and more. Ensure that you have the permission of whoever’s story you are telling and be deliberate about how you portray their story. While all stories can have some degree of fiction, changing certain details can be unethical.

All stories need conflict. For your nonprofit, this conflict should be directly related to the problems your nonprofit’s mission seeks to solve. Presenting a conflict that motivates your supporters to take action while educating them about your work can be a challenge. When presenting problems in your story, be sure to:

  • Be specific. There are many nonprofits out there, each fighting to solve unique problems. Ensure that your story is memorable by painting a picture using key statistics and specific details about your problem. If your nonprofit has collected data on your problem, this can be a chance to present it, though your content should primarily focus on making an emotional connection that spurs readers into action.
  • Instil urgency. You should present your problem as a pressing concern, not something that will have negative consequences in the remote future. While your story can explain that the problem will get worse if left unresolved and speculate about potential negative outcomes, you should focus on what is happening right now and how immediate actions can make a difference.
  • Present a solution. When describing your central problem, it can be easy to list every negative related to your mission in detail. However, it is possible to go overboard and present the current situation as hopeless, which can discourage your readers from taking action. Be sure that your story ends with a solution that your supporters can be a part of.

Stories that follow these tips should encourage their audiences to make a difference immediately after reading. You can make the most of this burst of motivation by linking to your donation page, volunteer sign-up, or other tasks related to your nonprofit’s current goals.

The problems your nonprofit aims to solve are likely complex matters that involve a variety of organizations and actors. However, the star of your nonprofit’s story should be your nonprofit, so make sure that your organization’s role in working toward a solution always receives centre stage.

When telling your story, consider how you can integrate your current goals and initiatives into your narrative. For example, if your nonprofit recently launched a grassroots advocacy campaign and you want to recruit more volunteers for it, then your stories should discuss your nonprofit’s role in creating change through political and grassroots action.

How you position your nonprofit will change from story to story based on what you are trying to emphasize to your audience. There may also be specific cases where it makes sense for your nonprofit to still play an important role in your story, but not as the sole hero.

For example, for a crowdfunding campaign, you might focus your messaging around how your nonprofit works alongside thousands of everyday supporters to achieve your goals and can only succeed with their generous contributions. In this situation, your nonprofit’s role and importance is still present, but your supporters are depicted as partners in your organization’s accomplishments.

The best, most memorable stories are able to transport their readers into a specific time or place using descriptive language. Of course, “descriptive” is a vague term and can mean several different things when it comes to storytelling. For nonprofits, consider how your stories can use language to:

  • Set a scene. If your supporters are able to envision a specific setting, they’re more likely to identify with the characters in that setting. Plus, the more memorable details you add, the more likely your story is to stick with your audience, helping you earn word-of-mouth marketing. Choose which details you will draw attention to, creating a vibrant scene but without distracting your audience with unnecessary information.
  • Evoke emotion. While some of your supporters may carefully weigh the pros and cons of contributing to your cause before deciding to donate, many others will primarily be motivated by emotion. This is a natural reaction, as most people give to causes they have a personal connection to or investment in. Your stories can build this connection by using language that evokes emotion, motivating supporters to take action.
  • Convey your brand identity. When you think of nonprofit storytelling, you likely first envision anecdotes, blog posts, spotlights, and other forms of direct storytelling. However, nonprofits can use storytelling elements throughout their entire websites. For example, Morweb’s guide to the best nonprofit websites displays a wide range of websites that vary widely in imagery. However, they all use evocative language to tell their nonprofit’s story and establish a brand identity, whether they’re discussing how science can “bring conservation to life” or their mission to “build a more just and vibrant society.”

When using descriptive language, remember to also consider the principle of conservation of detail. Conservation of detail is a writing principle that says you should only include the details and information that are relevant to your story. Adhering to this guideline will help you to create rich, detailed stories without losing focus or going off on tangents.

Visuals are powerful tools for online marketing campaigns, whether they’re being used to decorate your website, campaign pages, or marketing materials. It’s well known that a photograph is worth a thousand words, but a particularly well-chosen image can do even more, helping to attract attention to your story and create an emotional connection with your readers.

Get creative about what visuals your nonprofit uses, and make sure your website has the ability to support multimedia elements, such as:

  • High-quality photographs. A poor-quality photo can make your website look unprofessional. However, many large, high-quality images can also slow down your website, leading to long load times. Use compression tools to reduce file size without sacrificing quality.
  • Graphics. If your nonprofit wants to share data or explain a difficult concept as part of your story, consider creating a graphic. Well-designed graphics can help your readers visualize otherwise abstract concepts and translate numbers into something meaningful.
  • Videos. Images give your readers another way to experience your nonprofit’s stories, and videos provide an additional method that might be even more memorable for your audience. Create shareable, professional videos that explain your nonprofit’s story and add them to key pages on your website, such as your about page and program initiatives page.

Before adding visual elements, check your website builder’s ability to support multiple image files. The right website builder will be able to adapt your images for multiple screens automatically, ensuring you don’t need to optimize each of your pages for mobile individually.

A compelling story can urge supporters to join your cause, donate, and spread the word about your campaign to their friends and family. Before getting started with your next campaign, spend time brainstorming the story you want to present and check to make sure that your website builder will be able to support every element of your message.

Murad Bushnaq is the Founder and CEO of Morweb. Since its inception in 2014, Murad has acted as Creative Director and Chief Technologist to help nonprofits spread their vision online through engaging design, intuitive software and strategic communication.