All charities rely on pushing our buttons so that we feel compelled to make donations, and the most effective way to do this is by telling stories.

Stories are easier to remember than cold, hard statistics, and have the power to trigger very strong emotions in us all.

Here is how to make the most of emotional storytelling for your charity.

Recommended reading: 5 Essential Tips on How to Organize a Charity Campaign on Social Media

Well-structured stories are a good starting point

Structuring your story well will hold your audience’s attention and compel them to stay engaged until the end. Every story has some basic elements: a message, a conflict or an obstacle, characters, and a plot. Take note of these and try to map them out for your marketing story.

Many adventure stories also feature a hero supported by a mentor (think Harry Potter and Dumbledore or Luke Skywalker and Yoda), which works perfectly for charities when demonstrating the ways they support people through difficult times.

The nonprofit organization charity :water uses storytelling to gain support for their mission to bring clean and safe drinking water to people. By sharing personal stories of the people they have helped on other websites, they reach new audiences and share their mission with the wider world.

Compelling video makes an instant impact

A recent study by Wyzowl found that 72% of consumers would rather use video than text to learn about a product or service, a fact that many charities are using to their advantage. Video brings audiences closer to your cause in a way that other media can’t, promoting empathy and understanding. This helps to raise awareness, while also strengthening ties with existing supporters.

Video is an immediate form of communication that has the power to really engage people. Slaying Childhood Cancer,’ a video by a US charity called Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, tells the story of one young person’s lifelong struggle with cancer. Featuring a series of black and white shots and an interview with her father, it demonstrates how a candid and personal approach to storytelling can create a moving and emotive experience.  Video doesn’t have to be big budget to be compelling and watchable.

Images are a powerful part of storytelling

Our brain processes images 60,000 times faster than text. One image can capture a story and give a powerful voice to causes affecting a huge number of people: a good example of this is the iconic image of Iesha Evans being arrested by riot police at a civil rights march.

Images are especially effective because they’re shareable: for example, tweets with images receive 150% more retweets than those without.

The power of image-based storytelling is employed by charitable organizations at all levels. Nonprofit Feeding America partnered with Tyson Foods to address the problem of hunger within communities. This partnership has helped to provide 4.5 million servings of food to hungry Americans. Feeding America has successfully used Pinterest to demonstrate unity:

Someone else working to feed those without regular access to food is the social enterprise 24 Carrot Co. They donate a percentage of their profits to provide healthy food to people need it – 24 Carrot Co. puts children at the heart of their social media storytelling, using them as an emotive tool to demonstrate the importance of healthy eating throughout people’s lives:

UNICEF have a long history of using images as a powerful part of storytelling and even have a website dedicated to their photography. Their Instagram page is an excellent example of telling stories through portrait images of individuals. Research has shown that our minds are wired to care more about individuals than large groups, making UNICEF’s approach especially compelling.

Allow people to tell stories in their own words

92% of people say they trust recommendations from friends and family above all other forms of marketing.

Patients, clients, patrons, beneficiaries, volunteers, trustees and staff all have a crucial role to play in your charity — and they will all have their own story to tell.

When people share their stories in their own words, they will automatically sound natural and authentic.

The American Cancer Society shares testimonials from its volunteers, detailing how they got involved, what they do for the charity, and how they benefit from giving up their time to help others. Each story illustrates what the American Cancer Society does, and allows potential volunteers or donors to hear the amazing benefits of volunteering directly from the people who are on the ground doing the work.

This is an engaging method of storytelling that touches people on an emotional level.

Make it easy for other people to tell your story for you

Research has shown that social media posts with more higher emotional content get more shares. The emotional nature of social media makes it easy for charities to raise awareness and funds, and connect with supporters in an authentic way.

Social media also offers a quick and easy way for people to share stories about how a particular charity has had an impact on their life, which, as described above, is a highly effective method of emotional storytelling.

By giving supporters an easy and accessible method to share their stories, charities can reach many more potential donors.  

AGE UK encouraged people to share pictures of themselves with their grandparents using the hashtag #notbymyselfie, gathering hundreds of stories highlighting the problem of loneliness in old age — raising awareness of their work in a way that was simple, effective, and heart-warming. The most emotive stories are the ones that are real, which social media has the power to demonstrate.

The best kind of emotional storytelling evokes empathy in supporters, which means the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

Instead of relying just on facts and statistics to relay a message, emotional storytelling compels people to imagine themselves in someone else’s shoes, making them more likely to convert from interested parties into donors.

By using the methods described above you can engage your supporters or customers in ways that promote trust and credibility, just like the top charities.



Kayleigh Alexandra is a content writer for Micro Startups — a site dedicated to giving through growth hacking. Check out the blog for news on charities, nonprofits, and organizations committed to helping the world. Follow us on Twitter @getmicrostarted.


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