10 Tips for great storytelling for charities and social enterprises

A Guest blog post by Annie Gainsborough

We talked storytelling at our last café, discussed it in our newsletters  and wrote about it in our blog,  Jamie Veitch a Senior Associate from Keep Your Fork led our discussion and we've got his fantastic tips below, but first, let’s look at 3 examples of the difference it makes….

The magazines in a waiting room at a local addiction service were replaced with ‘personal shares’ from clients of the organisation. Some of these were short, others were long and some people used poems to convey their experiences. This small change totally changed the internal atmosphere for the staff and services users.”

“The Ice Bucket Challenge began with a few friends but suddenly took off when a celebrity got involved and through the use of social media. It went from being a small campaign to a huge international one and led to breakthrough research “

“St John’s Ambulance TV advert where a Cancer Survivor begins to choke to death shows the importance of CPR. This was felt to be particularly effective due to the unexpected progression of the narrative
storytelling with the Third Sector Cafe

Jamie promised us Ten Tips for storytelling and here is our write up from the session :

#1 Don’t Ask Permission (But Do)

Do ask permission to share someone else’s story but don’t ask permission to actually do the sharing. Don’t introduce your story with ‘I’m going to tell a story’ or ‘Can I tell you a story’ – just tell it. This way it achieves a greater impact. Of course do ask permission to share the stories of your stakeholders, supporters, and clients.

#2 Stories are about People

You will often have a heroic protagonist and sometimes an antagonist - although it's not essential as long as their are people in your story that your audience can relate to. But you should also have a theme. Here are the 4 themes that neuroscientists believe particularly resonate with audiences and make stories memorable:

1.      Threat or Danger - particularly a threat to children

2.      Power – this can be good or bad uses of power, it could be challenging power or using leadership

3.      Love/Kindness/Attraction/ Romance/ Sex – this makes people pay attention!

4.      Death or ending - have some kind of conclusion

#3 So What?

You need to work out what your audience cares about. To do this you may need to test your stories on an audience but often you can work it out by creating an avatar or a persona of your audience. What are the characteristics of your biggest supporters and what to they care about?

The So What? Test – If you were pitching your story to a journalist why would they pick your story rather than the 50 others they have to choose from.

#4 Cliff-hangers

Classic writers, like Charles Dickens, wrote in serial format so always left their readers with cliff-hangers so they would come back for the next issue. The same concept works now with regular podcasts and TV series. They leave you wanting more.

#5 Sensory Overload

Try and engage as many senses as possible to make your story more memorable. Extra points if you can engage the sense of smell and taste!

#6 Sticky Stories Examples to look up:

Leprosy Mission - Bare Foot Challenge

Dollar Shave Club

Sightsavers – How Winesi got his sight back / A Million Miracles

Unilever – Project Sunlight

How to make a story sticky – SUCCESS:

Simple – clear and memorable (but not dumbing-down) – think newspaper headline
Unexpected – your story should be new, first or different
Concrete – specific – have a clear moral or message
Credible – make it believable
Emotional – don’t be afraid to be emotive. But be credible to avoid overdoing it
Structure – see #8

#7 One Key Message

What do you want people to feel, understand, but most importantly, DO! End with a call to action.

#8 Structure

Think about your length and content and develop a story arc. Have a beginning, middle and end. Try involving your audience in your conclusion as an effective way of incorporating a call to action. Think of how stories on social media evolve and engage. 

#9 Practise

Make a timeline on a huge roll of paper. Add key moments in your charity’s life (lottery funding achieved, new CEO etc) and then ask your volunteers to think about how and why these things happened, what they achieved… Fill the paper with their stories. This reminds staff and volunteers of their purpose and helps them see why stories are useful.

#10 Delivery

Be authentic. Develop a tone of voice that is natural to you. Or (with permission) use the wording originally used by the owner of the story. Enjoy it and be yourself!

Put your storytelling skills to the test and join Katy from the Wheel Exists as she  hosts a video series for us. 

Put your storytelling skills to the test and join Katy from the Wheel Exists as she hosts a video series for us. 

storytellingSophy Hallam