How many times have you been told a fact, only to forget it by the next day? For example, we could tell you something like “squirrels are behind the most power outages in the U.S.” (it’s true!), which you might remember, only because it’s odd. However, you’re way more likely to remember that fact if we told you a story about a squirrel named Larry who wreaked havoc on the American power grid, which led to the realization that squirrels do indeed cause a shockingly high number of power outages nationwide.
You get the point: stories are more memorable. And it’s proven! According to cognitive psychologist Jerome Bruner, stories are 22 times more memorable than just stating a fact.
So how is this research relevant to your nonprofit? Well, it means that you can build stronger and more meaningful relationships with your website visitors by harnessing the power of storytelling.
Fundraising for your nonprofit is about more than money — it’s also about inspiring donors to make a difference with their contributions. Your donors don’t want to feel like an ATM. They want to know that their funds are impacting real people.
Through storytelling, you can convey this impact and more, especially if you bring stories to your website. However, you’ve got to do it right, so we’ve put together some tips to help. When using your website to share meaningful stories about your work, you should:
- Identify your characters
- Integrate stories throughout your website
- Use lots of images
- Remember that your story doesn’t have to be finished
Creating the best website for your nonprofit doesn’t require tons of coding knowledge or flashy marketing. Instead, telling real stories can inspire your site’s visitors, donors, and volunteers to action all while highlighting the great work your nonprofit does to help others and change the world.
Identify your characters
At the center of any good story is a great character, and that’s exactly who your nonprofit’s story needs. According to this Getting Attention guide about nonprofit storytelling, a compelling character is one of the essential ingredients in an effective story. Why? Because the character is the one whom readers will empathize with, which will then connect them to the larger story.
However, don’t think of your story’s character as the protagonist of a movie or a novel. Instead, you should choose a real person who has a connection to your nonprofit in some way or another. This person could be anyone from a beneficiary to a leader of your cause (or both!). Only you can decide which people should be the face of your story.
Next, there are some traits you want to look for in your characters. When identifying the right characters for your nonprofit’s story, be sure that they have the following characteristics:
- Likable: It’s important that your character is likable, so that a wide variety of people are able to connect with them. Ask yourself if this person is approachable or relatable and how their story might connect with an audience, because while we love an Oscar-worthy, morally ambiguous character in a dramatic movie, they’re less likely to get visitors to donate!
- Unique background: Your character should have a unique background, something that sets them apart from others. What makes your character special? How did their unique backstory draw them to your nonprofit?
- Eager to get involved: You certainly do not want to make someone the main character of your nonprofit’s story without their permission. Make sure to ask them and confirm that being a part of your story is of interest to them, and ask how they might want to get involved with appearances or speaking opportunities in the future.
- Positively affected by your nonprofit’s work: Because this character will represent your nonprofit’s work on your website and beyond, you want to be sure they were positively affected by your nonprofit’s work. This way, visitors to your site can see the direct impact you’ve made.
Your characters are one of the most important aspects of your nonprofit’s story, so choose carefully! Finding the right people might be challenging, but being thorough in your selection process will only benefit you in the long-run. Plus, the process of picking your characters can give you and your staff an opportunity to connect with all kinds of people who have interacted with your nonprofit, therefore strengthening your overall community.
Integrate stories throughout your website
You may be tempted to include your full story on the homepage of your website, but this approach might not be the most effective one. Your website has limitless creative potential, so you might as well take an inventive approach when sharing your nonprofit’s story.
Because stories are such an effective engagement strategy, spreading them throughout your website keeps visitors invested throughout their time on your site. This way, storytelling becomes an integral part of your website and your nonprofit’s work, not just a flashy way to grab someone’s attention that ultimately lacks substance.
Here are some ways to present and integrate stories throughout your site:
- Spotlight a story on relevant pages: There are lots of people who are affected by your nonprofit and all of those experiences matter. You can share different stories and testimonials depending on the page. For example, you could tell a volunteer’s story on your service sign-up page to encourage supporters to get more involved. This way, visitors to your site come across the stories that are most relevant to them.
- Create a guided experience: Who doesn’t love an interactive website? Consider designing a guided experience on your website to bring a visitor through an entire story. You could include an interactive timeline of events or a photo album to click through. However you decide to do it, now’s the time to sharpen those creative storytelling skills!
- Include quotes on different pages: Sharing someone’s direct experience through a quote can tell its own story. For instance, on your online fundraising page, you could include a quote from a constituent explaining how your programs have impacted their life. This story might incentivize donors to follow through with their contribution.
If your mission is the foundation of your nonprofit, these stories are the beautiful buildings built on top of it that get people to notice your hard work! By integrating stories throughout the content of your website, you not only add a distinctly human dimension to your site, but you also create way more interest in your work. We’ve been telling stories since the cave days, so why not “paint the walls” of your site with meaningful stories?
Use lots of images
Everyone has heard the saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words” for good reason. Images pull on our visual senses, evoke empathy, and put a face to the name. In short, they can take your nonprofit’s story to the next level. So when using images to enhance your stories, be sure to:
- Give your images a chance to tell the story: If your story happens to be over the word count (we’ve certainly been there), consider including some images to break up the text. Anything from an infographic showing off some interesting data to a photo of your volunteers hard at work can create something memorable for your audience.
- Maintain consistent branding: As you know, it’s essential that your website follows your nonprofit’s branding guidelines, so you should maintain this same standard when it comes to telling your story. For example, if you use an infographic, make sure the colors and typography match everything else on your site. This way, your story will seem like a fundamental part of your nonprofit (which it definitely is!).
- Ensure images aren’t slowing down your site: As much as we love tons of images, you also want to be sure they aren’t slowing down your site, which can negatively impact your visitor experience. This Cornershop Creative guide to nonprofit website maintenance can help you check all the boxes to make sure your site is running as efficiently as possible.
Images aren’t the only visuals you can include, though. Videos are also a super effective way to give your visitors a way to connect with your story beyond words. You could even feature interviews with your main characters so they can share their experiences in their own words.
We’ve all probably wished that our favorite novels had some visuals like the good ole days of picture books. Images make a story come to life, so including them within your nonprofit’s stories can help them resonate even more with your audience.
Remember that your story doesn’t have to be finished
Although you may want to stamp an “And they lived happily ever after” at the end of your nonprofit’s main story, don’t feel like you have to! In fact, an unfinished story might be more engaging than one that has been neatly wrapped up. In other words, a great cliffhanger will keep your readers coming back for more.
Leaving your story unfinished might also represent how the work of your nonprofit is never finished, which will encourage donors to continue contributing. And as your nonprofit accomplishes more thanks to those ongoing donations, you can continue to share updates.
Speaking of updates, whenever you share a new chapter of your story, post about it all over your different marketing channels, such as social media or in your email newsletter. This way, it’s easy for readers to click the link to your site and get that update they’ve anxiously been awaiting.
Your website is the perfect medium to tell stories about your nonprofit. With high traffic, lots of ways to interact, and limitless creative possibilities, you can tell a memorable and engaging story that will capture your audience’s attention. Now go knock their socks off!