Nonprofit Storytelling in a Digital World

Nonprofit Storytelling in a Digital World

Amber Robinson, media lab intern, Boston University 2015

Julia Campbell emphasized that storytelling is essential for nonprofits to market their mission, when she spoke at the Hands on Tech Boston presentation, “Nonprofit Storytelling in a Digital World” held on October 17th. Campbell, who is president/CEO of J Campbell Social Marketing, used her media expertise to share how nonprofits could use storytelling as a tool.

Campbell stressed various points about why storytelling is so effective in raising awareness for nonprofits. One of her reasons was that people don’t remember bullet points. She said humans respond to emotions rather than statistics, therefore a video of a person in the community you are trying to help is more effective than giving statistics about why that community needs help.

Another point she mentioned was that storytelling can be a coherent manner for nonprofits to share their mission along with other details about the organization. Some stories that can achieve the aforementioned are value stories, striving-to-improve stories and creation stories. Value stories can express the organization’s core values. Striving to improve stories can reveal how the organization has learned from mistakes and ultimately show the organization’s resiliency. Creation stories can show the founder’s stories about what made them start the organization.

Various other stories that can also be impactful are ones that come from a third party. For instance, if someone sends a praise letter to the organization, that person can be interviewed. This interview can then be used to form a story. Another way to use experiences of third parties involved with the organization is by creating a page on the website that allows clients to post and share their stories about why they got involved with the organization and how they feel because of their involvement.

Campbell also told nonprofits to focus on the audience. Nonprofits must always consider how they want to impact their audience; this is often achieved by thinking about what is important to the audience.

Since video is now one of the most popular ways of storytelling, Campbell gave some tidbits on how to use it in a manner that is most advantageous. She recommended thinking about shareable stories and focusing on keeping videos between one and two minutes. She also said that at the end of the video the nonprofit must consider what it wants the audience to do. Campbell said videos should inspire the audience to take action, whether it be making a donation, or sharing the video on a social networking page.

A group of Next Mile Project media lab interns, myself included, attended this presentation at the Microsoft N.E.R.D. Center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, MA. The room was packed with people from different nonprofit organizations. During the question and answer portion at the end of the lecture, a range of familiarity with different storytelling tools was apparent in the group as well as a large amount of interest in learning more. The Q and A showed myself and the other media lab interns of the great need nonprofits have to receive a more in depth training about how to use storytelling efficiently. To serve this need, we’ve decided to hold a NMP Lunch Series presentation about digital storytelling for nonprofits on December 10, 2013.