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July 9, 2020
 
How Nonprofits Can Best Tell Their Stories in the Digital Age
Book - Storytelling in the Digital Age
To thrive in today's digital world, nonprofits need to make their case—continuously and engagingly—which means they have little choice but to be effective storytellers, and for that reason should put Storytelling in the Digital Age: A Guide for Nonprofits at the top of their reading list.

Author Julia Campbell, a savvy nonprofit marketer, top-rated blogger, and founder of Wenham-based J Campbell Social Marketing, delivers the tough love message nonprofits need to hear: they may know their organization, but if they want to succeed—with donors, clients, influencers, and other stakeholders—they must tell their nonprofit's story, and they need to tell it online.

To the reader's delight, Campbell provides a treasure trove of advice, insight, approaches, practical tips, front-line stories, check lists, and templates that will enable any nonprofit to use storytelling to great benefit.

The case for digital storytelling is compelling. Storytelling forces the nonprofit to fully understand why it is valued (and then speak to that); it helps attract more media attention; it builds commitment from donors; it creates a feedback mechanism, which in turn improves the organization's ability to communicate; and it increases transparency. Storytelling via social media and other online mechanisms enables nonprofits to get their message out quickly through the channels on which more and more people (of all ages) are relying.

Everyone engages in storytelling, for that's how people naturally communicate. However, nonprofits for the most past historically have not aggressively and continuously harnessed those stories to advance their cause. That won't work going forward, which is why Campbell argues that "The work of collecting, gathering, and disseminating stories is the responsibility of the entire organization, small or large."

Becoming a high performing digital storytelling organization requires a strategy that everyone in the organization buys into. Campbell advises creating, with senior management's support, a Social Media Committee composed of staffers, volunteers, donors, and others who are enthusiastic about promoting the organization, who are tied into the community, and who know the nonprofit's programs and the people it serves. Then, train them on how other organizations use social media to tell their stories, and regularly engage with committee members.

For those to whom organized storytelling is new, Campbell provides guidance on where to find stories, and, as importantly, how to convince people to share their stories. "People who want to share their personal stories need to be empowered, not strong-armed," she writes.

The whole point of storytelling, Campbell notes, is to get people to act:
"In a nutshell, nonprofits should be using their stories to motivate the reader or the viewer to do something. This 'something' is referred to as a 'call to action'—the action that you want a person to take after being emotionally triggered by your story. If you are telling stories with no call to action (or CTA), then what is the point? You will be hard-pressed to measure the success of your efforts without a particular CTA."
It's this last point, measuring results, that Campbell uses to close the circle on the case for storytelling.

Acknowledging that many nonprofits get so involved in the daily business of posting, blogging, and tweeting that they often don't know if their efforts are bearing fruit, she advises, "Thorough measurement and data analysis of your work [you] can show that you are in fact making a difference ”“ or the data can confirm your fears." In any case, you shouldn't send another tweet without knowing how it affects your marketing and fundraising objectives.

Storytelling in the Digital Age: A Guide for Nonprofits is available from Amazon.

Reviewed by Peter Lowy

July 2017
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