Storytelling for Charities: Connecting Hearts and Inspiring Action
“The medium is the message” - Marshall McLuhan, Communication Theorist
Picture this: you're scrolling through your Facebook feed and spot some facts, figures and statistics about a cause. While it might engage your brain, does it make your heart skip a beat? For most people, probably not, and that’s why storytelling is the hero of communications for charities; it elevates facts and stats alone, into relatable, human experiences.
Looking Behind the Numbers
Earlier in my career, I worked in marketing for a small charity called Kicks Count. Their social media audience grew from 18,000 to over half a million people during my eight years there. Though there were numerous reasons for that growth, storytelling was an undoubted key player.
No social media posts were ever more impactful and successful than those that told a story. None. Be that the story of the charity and why it came to be, or of the babies that it helped to save. More powerful still, were the stories of the parents who had lost their baby, and were brave enough to share their experience to raise awareness.
Considering it’s one of the wealthiest countries in the world, the number of stillbirths and neonatal deaths in the UK is surprisingly high. While using statistics did catch people’s attention, they didn’t always keep it - statistics alone seemed easier to scroll on by.
In actuality, those numbers and percentages were sons, daughters, brothers and sisters. Grandchildren and future friends. Each one with, and deserving of, their individual story. Getting that across, in the most delicate way possible, ultimately formed a huge part of my role. But, why?
Why so Powerful? The Science of Storytelling
“Stories are an effective way to transmit important information and values from one individual or community to the next. Stories that are personal and emotionally compelling engage more of the brain, and thus are better remembered, than simply stating a set of facts.” - Paul J. Zak, Neuroscientist
In a nutshell, people connect with stories on a visceral level. When you share personal narratives, struggles - and successes - you're inviting your reader into a world they can emotionally invest in. One they might just recognise. We’re drawn to stories because we intuitively understand that we, too, may have to face that challenge one day, and we need to learn how to develop our resolve.
Moreover, stories help cut through information overload. In a wash of emails, ads and notifications, a compelling story really does stand out. It captures attention and, if done right, keeps it - and we all know how scarce a resource attention is.
Once that attention is grabbed for long enough, the reader can begin to emotionally resonate with the story. Narratologists call this “narrative transportation,” and it’s when people become more immersed in, and more easily persuaded by, the story’s messages. It’s what you experience when your heart races, as Harry Potter faces up to ... he who shall not be named.
Simply put, our brains are wired to love a good yarn – it activates regions responsible for emotions. This emotional connection is what prompts action, whether it's making a donation, volunteering, or simply spreading the word.
Here’s a couple of things I’ve learned over the years:
- Like with everything, balance is important. Sharing harsh possibilities without overwhelming your audience is a line to be carefully trodden.
- Ditch the jargon and speak from the heart, like you’re chatting to a friend about your charity’s work. Getting this tone right is game-changing.
- Charities have the chance to tell some of the most courageous and inspirational non-fiction stories possible. That’s not only a privilege, it’s an amazing opportunity.
Join Us at the Donorfy Together Conference!
Curious to learn how to craft your charity’s stories? Join writers David Schneider and David Levin for an invaluable seminar on using effective digital storytelling, nailing your brand tone of voice and what makes great copywriting at the Donorfy Together Conference. They’ve been helping brands, broadcasters and charities smash their social media for over 10 years. Let's craft stories that resonate and drive change! 🚀