4 steps you can take to harness the power of story telling

Sarah Browning is a wonderful story teller, no surprise as she’s a comms expert and trustee of a Holybrook Associates_4412b_resizecharity focused on books and stories for children.  Here she tells us a little bit more about the impact that story telling can have:

Last night I presented to the RVA (Reading Voluntary Action)
Trustees’ Network about using the power of stories when communicating about their charity. As a small charity trustee myself, of local literacy charity ABC to read, I know that we often have to take a very hands-on approach and that we can get bogged down in the details of our Twitter feed or newsletter. However, as trustees we also have a more strategic role to play, looking at how we can get the most value from the communications we have.

Who doesn’t love a good story? Stories make people feel something and if they feel something, they will act. For charities who are looking to get others to take action, that’s really important – you may want people to access your services, to run a half marathon to fundraise for you, to campaign on something or to give you a grant for a new project.

If nothing else, 2016 taught us all about the power of telling a good story. Whatever your views on Brexit, it was pretty clear that the Leave campaign painted a clearer picture of (their version of) the future. And people took action depending on how that made them feel.

And whatever your organisation is there to do, you will be able to tell a story about it. There are hundreds and thousands of examples all around us every day. One of my favourites to illustrate that you really can tell a story about anything is this Friends of the Earth video from a few years ago which told the love story between 2 plastic milk cartons (yes, really) to encourage people to recycle more. If you haven’t seen it, it’s well worth a look. And whatever your organisation is there to do, you will be able to tell a story about it. https://vimeo.com/23627164

If you want to get more value from your communication about your charity, I recommend taking these steps to put together your approach:

  • Think about why you want to communicate in the first place. What are you trying to achieve? What do you want people to think, feel or do (differently) as a result of your communication? If you’re clear on that from the start, you will know whether you’re achieving that outcome or not.
  • Who are the ‘people’ you want to do something? It’s highly likely that you will have different groups of people that you would like to act in different ways, for example service users and their families, volunteers and funding bodies. Work out who these groups are and what motivates them or interests them? What do they already know about your organisation and cause – or think they do?
  • Now think about the stories you can tell to create that feeling (and action) in those groups of people. All charities have lots of stories and you need to pick out the powerful ones that you can tell in the best way to create action. Sometimes telling the same story from different angles can help you achieve your aim in several ways.
  •  Once you’ve got your reason, audience and message clear, it should become much easier for you to work out the best methods to use to get your stories to the right people. For example, short, sharp bursts or very visual stories work well on things like Twitter and Instagram, whereas more detailed written content might be better for a magazine that people read over a coffee.

Whatever you’ve got to say and however you say it, a key thing to remember is that there are no right or wrong ways to communicate, just more or less effective ones.