Michael Odom, Vice President who leads the nonprofit division at Marx Layne

Michael Odom, Vice President who leads the nonprofit division at Marx Layne

Nonprofits are about and for people. And many of those people make great stories. It could be the homebound senior who benefits nutritionally from a meal delivery system. It could be an addict who finds life and success in recovery or a veteran who is matched with a nonprofit that could help a returning soldier out with housing and furniture. We recently met with Michael Odom, vice president of Marx Layne & Company, who leads its nonprofit division, to discuss further.

Nonprofits tackle some of society’s biggest challenges. Behind doing the good, however, there are countless hours of fundraising, volunteer recruitment, advocacy, and increasing awareness among key stakeholders.

Behind every nonprofit are great stories waiting to be told. This does more than making the nonprofit look good. It can assist donor recruitment, generate positive media coverage, and increase awareness of the nonprofit’s mission.

So how does a nonprofit embark on a storytelling (or story mining, as some call it) program?

It all begins with what the nonprofit is about, who does it serve, and who benefits the most?

Storytelling can be considered one of the most important communications tools for a nonprofit as it helps the organization emotionally connect with its intended audience and spurs them to take action, such as donating, volunteering or getting the word out about the important work being done in the community.

Storytelling can be incorporated into a variety of communications channels and engagement tactics that include:

  • Social media posts
  • Video
  • Marketing materials
  • White papers or illustrative guides
  • Special events
  • Annual reports and newsletters
  • Media relations
  • Website content
  • E-blasts/E-Newsletters

Digital storytelling is the same; however, the content is geared toward an online audience with interactivity, embedded media and various calls to action.

A big mistake that many nonprofits make is negating the storytelling. Nonprofit leaders sometimes deliver policy work jibber-jabber that caters to appease a board of director. The lack of emotional connection ends up costing nonprofits in new dollars and new donors.

Below are some helpful tips when for nonprofits that are planning to mine stories:

  1. Keep it real: Make the stories about actual people, even if the nonprofit focuses on causes.
  2. Be emotional (but use it wisely). Don’t overdo it and try to pluck at heartstrings, and most importantly, don’t tell, but show — illustrate how this story benefits the individual or the community.
  3. Make sure the story circles back to the nonprofit. For example, suppose we stick with the story of the veteran coming back from Iraq. In that case, we can use his experience with the nonprofit with such verbiage as “we help many veterans like Mike all over the tri-county area and have been doing it for 25 years.”
  4. Always work on new stories and develop a story bank. It doesn’t always have to be about the nonprofit recipient. It could be the volunteer who donates time because she strongly believes in an organization’s mission. Have a strategy that keeps storytelling fresh throughout the year.
  5. Reuse the stories. They can be reconfigured to work for capital campaigns, end-of-year giving appeals, donor recruitment or media pitches.
  6. Be visual. Anyone with a smartphone and a laptop can cut together a five-minute film. Think about how the story will look in printed material, in an e-newsletter or online (across all platforms). Make sure you have the images and video to back it up.
  7. Tell the whole story. Every story has a start, a middle and an end. Your intended audience needs to be guided from start to finish to tell a compelling story about how a life was changed for the good by the program or nonprofit.

Nonprofit storytelling is a powerful tool. If done correctly and with apt planning and resources, a nonprofit can emotionally connect with its key stakeholders and build greater brand awareness to exceed overall organizational goals.

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