Communicating your nonprofit’s brand narrative through storytelling

Apr 14, 2023

Do you know how to communicate your nonprofit’s brand narrative through storytelling? Are you leveraging your brand to determine which stories you should develop?

In my posts about brand messaging platforms, key messages and using your brand to shape your content, I’ve shared a narrative framework of IDENTITY, WHY, HOW and IMPACT that can guide your communications and content decisions. You can use the same framework to generate story ideas and figure out which — strategically aligned — stories to tell.

Narrative vs. stories

First, let’s look at the relationship between narrative and stories. Your nonprofit organization’s brand narrative lays out the overarching story of who you are, what you do, why you do it, and the difference you are making.

Your narrative comes to life through your stories and the people you feature. Each story should communicate one or two of your key messages so that your nonprofit’s storytelling conveys your brand narrative over time.

Use your nonprofit’s key messages to shape your storytelling

To communicate your nonprofit’s brand narrative through storytelling, start by using the IDENTITY, WHY, HOW and IMPACT framework to brainstorm ideas about who to feature. I’m sharing some generic ideas here, but draw inspiration from the specifics of your nonprofit’s key messages.

IDENTITY stories

By telling IDENTITY stories, you’ll convey the essence of who your organization is. These stories can illustrate the context in which you work, the strengths and perspectives that position you to do so, and what makes your organization credible or trustworthy.

Depending on your brand, your nonprofit’s IDENTITY stories might feature:

  • Your founders or other people involved in your origins
  • Events or circumstances that shaped your approach
  • Your leaders, including board members or senior staff, particularly those who bring lived experience

WHY stories

By telling WHY stories, you’ll communicate what your organization stands for and why it exists. These stories can explain or demystify the challenges, issues, gaps, or needs your nonprofit addresses, and they can shed light on your larger purpose or vision.

Depending on your brand, your nonprofit’s WHY stories might feature individuals, organizations or communities and:

  • Their connection to your cause or issue and how they are impacted by it
  • How they are affected by inequitable systems or unfavourable situations
  • Their experience with or motivation to support your cause

HOW stories

By telling HOW stories, you can showcase your nonprofit’s approach to solving problems and tackling challenges. When you tell stories about your solutions and strategies, you will help audiences understand your model, offerings, and operations.

HOW story ideas can be easier than others to develop because they are about people close to you — those who are involved in program delivery, research, advocacy or other aspects of mission fulfillment:

  • Volunteers
  • Collaborators or partner organizations
  • Other community members, including advocates, activists, and engaged donors
  • Members of your staff team

IMPACT stories

By telling IMPACT stories, you’ll demonstrate accountability and the difference your organization has made or seeks to make. These stories show that you’re progressing toward your vision and that your activities contribute to small everyday successes and significant outcomes.

Depending on your nonprofit’s brand and model, IMPACT stories might feature:

  • Program and service participants
  • Funding recipients
  • Other individuals or members of communities that have experienced positive change as a result of your work

The examples I’ve provided are just a starting point; you will have many ideas unique to your nonprofit’s brand, approach, and context. When you use this IDENTITY, WHY, HOW and IMPACT framework to brainstorm, your story ideas and options will be unified by a single source of inspiration; your brand narrative.

Here are two more posts to help with story planning:

Use this narrative framework to craft your storytelling plan

Once you have generated ideas about the stories to tell, you’ll need to refine your storytelling decisions by aligning them with existing:

  • Plans (e.g., communications, fund development, advocacy, events) and;
  • Editorial calendars (for publications like your blog, newsletter, podcast, video channel, or social media).

Keep a big-picture view when planning stories to ensure your brand narrative is delivered over time. While you might revisit some story types more than others (based on your priorities and objectives), by telling stories that touch on all of your key messages, you’ll avoid getting stuck in a creative rut. And just as your brand is rooted in your organization’s strategic focus and priorities, so too will your storytelling be.

Do you need help with shaping and implementing your nonprofit’s storytelling? I specialize in story planning and writing for nonprofit organizations: see my storytelling package details and get in touch if it looks like a fit.

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