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Storytelling resources

Some of our favourite reads and insights about storytelling for social change:

Our storytelling checklist: 5 ways to sharpen your stories 


1. Start with why


Before you get started, ask yourself why are you telling this story? What do you need this story to do? 

Are you looking to inspire action? Give a progress update? Raise awareness with a new audience? Respond to an information gap? Expand a conversation? 


What kind of response do you want from the people who engage with your story? How do you want them to feel? What do you need them to do? How will you know if your story has hit the mark? Which metrics can you use?

Understanding the purpose of your story will influence not only which story you choose to tell, but how, when and where you tell it.


2. Know your audience

Presuming that your audience is deeply committed to your cause area or that they understand as much about the cause as you do is a common storytelling trap many non-profits and for-purpose organisations fall into. 

Always remember: you are not your audience.

How much do you really know about your audience? When was the last time you cross-checked assumptions? What do you think about your organisation? How do they usually find and engage with stories? What motivates them? Can they relate in some way to the story you’re sharing?

Relatability and accessibility are key. If your audience can’t find anything they can connect with, they’re unlikely to watch or read to the end. You have to work hard to find potential points of connection. 

3. Think about structure

Stories are more than a recitation of facts. Stories take us on a journey. The characters within the story are changed or transformed somewhere between the story’s opening and its end. A narrative arc is exactly that - an arc that builds your story up with just the right amount of detail and brings it through to a (hopefully) satisfying conclusion.  

Ask yourself what impact your work has had on the community or person in your story. How have things changed?

Also consider who is the best person to be telling this story. The most powerful stories tend to come directly from the voices of the people in the story.


Which format/s will best convey the story? How will you share it? Can you integrate the story across all your organisational communications?

A word of caution: attention spans are shorter than ever. Keep your stories on point. 


4. Find the human connection

When you’re telling stories in the social sector, this is the big one. This is where you’re really looking for the hooks and angles that will have the most impact with your audience.

The golden rule: ‘show, don’t tell’ is your key to success. Rather than telling your readers or viewers how to feel or what to think, show them through your story. Get them thinking.

Wherever possible, let the subjects of your story speak for themselves. Don’t put words in their mouth and don’t speak on their behalf. Look for standout quotes; use active rather than passive language and keep it real by including a few authentic details that add power and immediacy to the story.

On the flipside, don’t depersonalise your story by suffocating it with technical terms or unhelpful data. It should go without saying, but make sure you’re using inclusive, gender-neutral language – it’s 2019, there are no excuses.


5. Review. Refine. Repeat.


The only way to get better at telling stories is to tell more of them. Keep learning from each storytelling experience and stay open-minded. Don’t be afraid of feedback, invite it. Look at the numbers in terms of responses or page views or whatever engagement metric you can lay your hands on. What are they telling you?

Use this information to build your knowledge of your audience and find the narratives that work best. The more stories you tell, the better you’ll get.

Good reads:

White men shouldn't be the only philanthropists you can name

As a sector, we should push back on a narrow definition of philanthropy. 

Philanthropy is at a turning point. Here are 6 ways it could go

Critics are questioning whether philanthropy is effective, how it should be viewed in the wider context of global inequality, and whether it can remain legitimate within a democratic society.

Listen: Engage with Story podcast ep#42

Hear our founder, Nicole Richards talk storytelling and philanthropy:

  • Why story is such a powerful tool for non-profits and charities

  • Where philanthropic organisations struggle when it comes to telling effective stories

  • Top 3 tips to help non-profits and charities to start to tell better stories

Domestic violence or domestic abuse? Why terminology matters

Yasmin Khan explains why words matter and why we need to shift how we refer to abuse that takes place in the home.

Why Gen Z is Compelled to Do Good

Gregg L. Witt's overview of Gen-Z's search for connection and inclusivity includes 7 strategies to drive Gen-Z engagement with your non-profit. His number one tip? Practice good storytelling! 

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