To the extent possible, gather the information for effective stories as part of your intake process. This may require you to revisit some of your protocols, for example, to see how you can add questions to your application or intake forms. Make story collection part of serving clients . Get the details as part of closing the case.

Structure for an Effective Story

When non-profits use storytelling to make the case, they will show how a person has overcome some kind of obstacle. You’ll want to talk about the situation the person was facing, how they overcame the challenge with the organization’s help and the positive outcome they achieved. The more you can dramatize this, the better.

The Subject

Who is the story about? Describe their age, characteristics and other details relevant to the story.
How did they find out about your organization?

 The Conflict

Non-profits use storytelling to show before and after. For example, what are challenges they are facing?
How did the person get into this situation?
How does the person feel in this state?
What did they try to do about it?

 The Resolution

What did you do to address the issue? How did the person react? What constitutes a resolution?
How was the client empowered through this process?
What steps were presented to the client for them to take on their own?
How was the person’s perspective on life changed as a result?
What else changed for the person?

 The Result

How was your service received and acknowledged by the person you helped?
What did you do that went above and beyond the job description or expectations?
How is the client now empowered to advocate for themselves or otherwise changed?

You want your story to captivate your readers by engrossing them in the challenge inherent in the story. There needs to be a clear sense of progress and contrast from the “before” state to the “after” state. And don’t neglect your organization’s role in this transformation—after all, you are selling your organization’s ability to make a difference.

Stories told in the first person can be very powerful, but often difficult to elicit or not as coherent as needed for marketing purposes. If you choose to tell the story in third person, try to incorporate quotes from the client in the story.

Getting Permission

Nonprofits walk a delicate balance.  They must capture the most heartbreaking stories of people rising from dire circumstances. They need to use is to inspire people to support their organization. Yet, they must preserve the dignity of the people they serve.

It goes without saying that you should get permission from people before making their stories public. Privacy can be maintained in the way you attribute the story. At the most public level, the person may agree to a full disclose,. This allows you to use their full name and photo. Other options are using first name only or initials. You might use a generic attribution, such as “social services client” or “Wakefield resident.”

Regardless of attribution, thank the person for allowing you to use their story. Make sure you show them the finished story in your newsletter, website, direct mail or wherever it is being used.  Explain how it is helping people like them find services or is raising money for those services.

Creating a Culture of Storytelling

As an non-profit organization, you need to make the case. You can reinforce the value of stories by having staff members or department heads tell client success stories. Everyone will be inspired, learn more about the impact other departments are having and see success stories as an integral part of your nonprofit’s culture.

These tips are courtesy of Howard Levy, Red Rooster Group, a branding agency in NY, specializing in non-profits.