Storytelling Tips from the Pros at the Nonprofit Technology Conference

5 Comments 10 April 2012

Image courtesy of JD Lasica, Creative Commons license


Last week, I attended the Nonprofit Technology Conference, and had the pleasure of attending an interesting session on “The Future of Nonprofit Storytelling.” Moderated by Rob Wu of CauseVox, it included an all-star panel of storytelling experts: Cara Jones of Storytellers for Good, Jenna Sauber of the Case Foundation, and JD Lasica of Socialbrite. (I am also a Socialbrite colleague.) The panel pondered some interesting questions and offered concrete tips on how to create compelling stories, defining what is a story, storytelling tools, and creating an internal culture of storytelling.

Rob Wu, the moderator, asked these questions of the panel:

  • What is storytelling?
  • How is storytelling different from marketing communications?
  • How do you shift your nonprofit into a culture of storytelling?
  • What are your tips for capturing stories?
  • What tips do you have for storytelling and storytelling tools?
  • Where is storytelling going in the future?

I’ve captured most of the panel’s comments, as well as a few audience questions, in the Storify story created from tweets and photos (below). There are a few highlights from the session for me. Among them:

On storytelling

Cara Jones offered a three wonderful nuggets of wisdom about storytelling:

“People will forget what you told them. They will forget what you did. But they will never forget how you made them feel.”

“Use video for motion and emotion. Break out statistics and anything you want them to read into a separate place so they can read and digest the stats at their own pace separately. Keep the story to motion and emotion.”

“Nonprofit stories have the unique ability to allow people to feel and want to be a part of something bigger.”

On tips and tools

JD Lasica joked (seriously), “never have I watched a video and thought, ‘ oh that video just wasn’t long enough!'”

Jenna Sauber advised nonprofits to consider episodic storytelling by breaking up longer stories into shorter ones with an arc.

Cara Jones urged storytellers: “Don’t fear the close-up video. Exaggerate emotion for the audience.”

JD Lasica reminded us that photos and other lightweight media also have impact as storytelling media.

On finding stories and shifting internal culture towards storytelling

JD Lasica suggested that “stories don’t have to live within your own organization.” Also, “you will find storytellers within your nonprofit in surprising places.”

Jenna Sauber talked about how the Case Foundation uses an internal editorial calendar, and captures ideas between posts through its internal communications system, Yammer.

Cara Jones had a great idea for getting staff involved: “When nonprofits encounter internal resistance to telling stories, ask the staff to tell their stories. When staff feels heard, they are likely to go out and tell others’ stories.”

JD Lasica also highlighted some good tips from the panel in his blog post about the Nonprofit Technology Conference here.

 The full session is captured in the Storify story, below.




Debra Askanase is an experienced digital engagement strategist, non-profit executive, and community organizer. She works with mission-driven organizations to develop digital strategies and campaigns that engage, create trust, and move stakeholders to action. Debra speaks at conferences worldwide on the intersection of technology, social media, and nonprofit organizations.

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