Social Storytelling for Nonprofits: 5 Tips that Pack a Punch

Social Storytelling for Nonprofits: 5 Tips that Pack a Punch

There’s a reason we remember the plot to our favorite movies and books — we really like stories. A well-crafted story draws us in and inspires us to action. Why? Because humans are wired that way. Content marketers like myself have long recognized the importance of storytelling in order to make our content stand out. Because our social feeds are full of so many paid and organic updates, it’s now more important than ever to tell compelling stories, especially for nonprofits.

According to eMarketer, more than two-thirds of US nonprofit donors are turned off by poor content online. This means that what you share and how you share it is critical. Your potential donors and volunteers are waiting for you online, and in an age of distraction and over-saturation, only the best stories will make it to the top of their feeds and influence their decisions.

I’ve put together my top five tips to help nonprofits increase their social impact with storytelling:

Personify your mission

People make purchasing or donation decisions because they connect to people. Social media is your platform to sell your story and what you stand for. Showing the people, pets, or places that benefit from your work will go much further than telling. Nonprofits who succeed at humanizing their stories on social media (such as charity: water, Heal EB, National Park Foundation) reach a more active audience. Here are a few of the stories you could be telling:

  • Beneficiary stories
  • Community need and impact
  • Volunteer/donor spotlights

Inspire current and potential donors

Find opportunities to show your audience how your organization improves and empowers your community and how they can be a part of it. Avoid using guilt as a sales tactic: This may turn off some donors and make your relationship with them transactional, when you want it to me more interactive.

Most importantly, you need to be clear and intentional with your messaging. Tyler Riewer, brand content lead for charity: water, describes intentional storytelling as “knowing what action you want someone to take, and giving them the opportunity to take it (Fast Company).” Charity: water doesn’t just talk the talk — they inspire people to give by sharing emotional content that connects the potential donors with those in need.

Use your fans

Post original content that encourages your followers to share and engage, but also share content from volunteers and supporters. Any time a volunteer or donor engages with your organization on social media, brand awareness can permeate their network of family and friends. Turn those community members into advocates for your cause through social!  

By sharing content and stories on social media, you’re creating a community around your organization. The most powerful stories are those that speak for themselves. Sharing stories in the voice of those impacted by your organization packs a stronger emotional punch than carefully-curated branded content. People can sense authenticity.

Avoid clichés

In 2014, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge took over the internet. Why wouldn’t you be able to pull off a cheese eating contest to raise awareness for childhood hunger? It’s probably not going to work. Going viral is about hitting the right moment with a stellar and unique campaign. Sure, it’s amazing if you do, but you could end up wasting resources to achieve an ounce of the Ice Bucket Challenge’s success.

If you’re not a large organization with the capacity to handle a viral campaign, it’s best to avoid it. It’s a better use of your resources to target donors who are passionate about your organization.

Use video

Videos are essential in storytelling, and they don’t have to be amazing productions. Video content on social media generates 1200% more shares than text and images. Handing a smartphone to someone who wants to share their story feels real and raw. This emotional storytelling is much more compelling than any written piece.

There are a lot of options for telling a story on video. You can stand still with a monologue, shoot live content at an event, or produce a fully branded documentary. Your best option? That depends on the story you’d like to tell and what best suits your brand and your organization’s goals.

One key thing to remember: get to the point. The human attention span is shorter than a goldfish and 56% of videos in 2017 were less than two minutes long. Check out HubSpot’s list of optimal video lengths for each platform.

If you are operating on a budget (who isn’t?), live video content does a remarkable job of engaging an audience. Your followers are notified each time you start a live video, which increases the chance that people will find your content and leads to more views. Last year we did this with a local nonprofit organization, People’s City Mission in Lincoln, Nebraska, to bring awareness to their #Only251 campaign.

Learn more about the organization and their impact check out

Infusing good storytelling into your social media strategy means delving into what makes your organization unique. How do you serve your community and how can your followers help? To be a successful storyteller you need to form a relationship between those you serve and your online audience. There are lots of resources out there to help you tell more effective stories, and hopefully you can combine those with our tips to stand out on social!

Because we know nonprofits do a lot with a little, each year Hurrdat takes on a nonprofit organization as a free client. If you’re interested in being next year’s client, contact us at!

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