It might not feel like it, but starting out as a new nonprofit does have some advantages, even when it comes to storytelling. While you probably can’t tell the types of stories that a more established organization can, like those about the impact you’ve had in the community, there are inspiring tales to be told that are best captured in your early days.
One thing that I hear often when talking to newer nonprofits is that they are hurting for content on their websites, for blogs, in newsletters, across social media and beyond. There’s also a sense that you don’t want to make it too obvious that your organization is in its first year, in case it scares off potential donors or partners.
By the end of this post, I hope those anxieties start to fade away as you get a better sense of how different types of stories can help build your legitimacy and fill your communication channels.
Get practical advice and resources in a marketing toolkit that’s perfect for lone staffers and small nonprofit teams.
Ways to Promote a Nonprofit with Stories
Before we talk about specific story ideas, let’s consider where and how you might use them. While I’m a big fan of using stories in online marketing, like on a blog or in an email campaign, there are a ton of places and situations where it can help to have some well thought-out stories in your back pocket to promote your nonprofit:
- Writing a case for support document
- Filming a promotional video or short TV spot
- Presenting your cause to a local service organization
- Writing and distributing a press release
- Submitting a grant proposal
- Hosting a dinner party for potential board members
- Manning a booth at a community fair to find volunteers
- Visiting with major donors
- Sending a fundraising appeal letter
- Participating in Giving Tuesday or a local giving day
- Making a sponsorship ask for your first annual event
Even better, you aren’t limited to telling a story one time! Repurpose your story content by reformatting it for different marketing opportunities. Don’t be afraid to recycle and update stories over time as a way to demonstrate the power of your mission.
Types of Stories for New Nonprofits
You don’t lose out on the benefits of storytelling just because you’re running a new nonprofit. On the contrary, stories are as important as ever at this early stage because it’s critical that you can tell people what you do and why it matters. A good story becomes a part of your reputation and makes it easy for people to remember your cause — or at least how it makes them feel.
To help you get started, I’ve put together prompts for ten types of stories that you’re uniquely qualified to tell as a young nonprofit.
Everyone starts somewhere. What was the inspiration or impetus for starting your nonprofit? Focus on the turning point, “aha!” moment or action that drives your mission and programs today. You might be tempted to make yourself (or the founder) the hero, but that’s a role best filled by your donors or those you serve.
The Hole You Fill
It might be obvious to you, but other people probably don’t understand the need that wasn’t being served before your nonprofit arrived on the scene. Give your mission some context by describing how your nonprofit stepped in where no one else did.
Your Approach to an Issue
What fresh approach or philosophy do you use to tackle an important issue or an obstacle that your audience faces? Describe how your nonprofit and its supporters are uniquely positioned to make an impact.
Setting the Place & Time
You might be the new kid on the block, but which block? Explain why your nonprofit is working where it is and why it’s urgent to do this work right now. This story is a great opportunity to pull in other community resources and local voices to demonstrate your value.
You’re still building awareness and a name for yourself, but the community you’re hoping to serve or motivate already exists. Help people realize that your nonprofit provides what they are looking for by talking about who you are trying to reach, what you hope to offer, and who should get involved.
Someone You’ve Helped
It can be hard to fill up an Impact page on your website when you’ve only had a handful of program participants so far. Lucky for you, storytelling works best when you focus on a single person. Even if a story is still unfolding, you can start telling the tale of a person you’re helping now and follow up with them in the future to bring the story to a close.
As your nonprofit has gotten up and running, who is a donor that was one of your early cheerleaders? A donor profile doesn’t need to focus on the person making the biggest gift, instead choose someone to highlight (or even interview!) that is willing to share why they feel confident about giving to your nonprofit in your early stages.
Use the experience of one of your first volunteers to help motivate others to get involved. Ask why it was personally important for them to volunteer with you and what they learned from the experience. You can expand on the story to talk about the role of volunteers in your organization and the types of opportunities available.
Early Partner or Sponsor
Acknowledge a business or organization that boosted your cause and believed in your mission from the beginning. Do you share similar values or serve the same population? Describe what makes them a good fit and what they will achieve by partnering with you.
What Success Looks Like
You don’t have the “after” for a before/after story yet, but that doesn’t mean you can’t talk about your vision. What will the world look like when your mission is realized? This story is a chance to get creative and use visuals. You could even share a fictional “day in the life” of a person who is better off thanks to your programs or services.
Build Your Story Bank
As you begin to collect stories, it will quickly become necessary to find a place to store the various bits and pieces until you’re ready to use them. For example, you might collect supporting materials that help each story come to life and document their authenticity:
- Photos or video clips
- First-hand written accounts
- Interview transcripts
- Short testimonials or quotes
- Digital scans of documents or artwork
- Photo release forms, especially for minors
This is where a storybank (or story library) comes in. If you’re not familiar with the term, it refers to a system of organizing and filing away your story content in a way that makes the information easy to find, search and use.
For now, you can likely get away with some nicely organized and logically-named folders on your computer (or a safe storage solution like Box, Dropbox or Google Drive). As you grow and collect more stories, you’ll want to reassess the best way for your team to catalog and access what they need.
If you’re thinking this sounds like overkill, your future self will thank you for being proactive about your nonprofit’s stories. Many of the story ideas shared in this post can be used right now as well as again and again (something that marketers call “evergreen” content). Think how fun it will be for supporters to reread or hear these stories years from now when you celebrate an important milestone or anniversary.
Start at the Beginning
At the end of the day, you can’t change the fact that your nonprofit is new. There’s no hiding that you don’t have a long list of annual reports or social media accounts with a ton of followers. But you can start at the very beginning, which is a very good place to start, even for storytellers. Now’s the perfect time to capture the content you’ll need to show how far you’ve come and honor the people that made it possible.
Is your new or young nonprofit struggling to tell stories about your work? What are your biggest obstacles? Or have you found a good way to talk about your early days? Let’s chat in the comments.