Storytelling is a key mechanism by which not-for-profit organisations can communicate their message to key stakeholders. Whether it’s in trying to communicate your organisational objectives, or to reach out for new sources of funding, stories are a powerful way to communicate as the human brain has evolved to respond to stories as a way to remember, process and communicate information about the world around us. 

At its heart a story is a character with a yearning meeting an obstacle. The point where they meet is where you have conflict, and conflict is where stories happen. When applying this concept to the not-for-profit sector, the yearning is the organisation’s mission and core values, and the conflict is the problem it is working to solve.

The increasing challenges that the not-for-profit sector faces has resulted in a noticeable shift towards corporatisation of the sector. Irrespective of how this outcome is perceived, it’s creating an undeniably gap between “winners and losses” in the struggle for funding as funders demand more (and better) outcomes for less.

Organisations that have succeeded in attracting new sources of funding (or growing existing sources) are becoming increasingly savvy in communicating their story. Essentially they’ve found a way to stand out from the crowd.

Such organisations don’t see telling their story as a compliance exercise, but as an opportunity to connect with others in new and innovative ways.

So what comprises a good story? My top tips are:

  1. There are no stories without numbers and no numbers without stories (it’s important to link your qualitative and quantitative information);
  2. Remember Occam’s Razor…Less is more, so focus on telling a only a couple of points in an engaging way;
  3. You’re telling a story from person to person, so focus on telling a compelling story that will resonate with the individual;
  4. There are three key elements to a good story are: facts and figures; emotion; and rationalisation. It’s important to keep a good balance on all elements and not focus on just one.

Seeking impact through storytellingBrayden Smith
Volunteering NZ Board Member and Treasurer

Brayden is an Audit Partner at Grant Thornton New Zealand. Brayden is a regular commentator on issues that impact the not-for-profit sector and has over 20 years experience working with the sector.