Storytelling in Philanthropy: Highlighting Hope

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In the media obsessed world we live in today, we are constantly surrounded by stories. From the time we wake up, to the time we go to sleep, we are inundated with stories on the news, via our Facebook and Twitter feeds, and in conversation with friends and coworkers.

Yet, so many of the stories we hear in an average day don’t end with a solution. Instead they just give us a bunch of  information then leave us to figure out what should happen next.

But, for those of us in the non-profit sector, things need to be done a little bit different. For most organizations telling stories is the most effective way to reach both donors and clients, which means we need to put our stories to use as much as we can.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy recently released an article which offers some suggestions for how to avoid getting caught in the negative media trap that is so prevalent in our society.

1. Make a point to tell stories that don’t merely illuminate information, but highlight a way to move forward and take action. Don’t tell your audience about a problem unless you can offer them a potential solution or plan of action. Always look ahead to what can be done next.

2. Don’t rush into a story without all the necessary information. Sometimes it can take months or even years before a solution to the problem shows up. Follow the story and be ready when to take action once there is a hopeful solution to offer your readers.

3. Work with the media in your area to produce meaningful stories that have a positive message. Don’t assume the news has to be depressing. Talk to local reporters about good ways to talk to sources that might bring more hope to the facts and that could serve as a call to action.

When tragedy strikes, or when telling people about the harsh realities of life, don’t settle for telling them basic facts and figures. The facts are important and shouldn’t be left out, but people, and the narratives of those people we aim to help, are what really motivate people to engage and making a difference. Give your audience something to do after you present them with the facts and show them what is possible with their help.

This means that the success story needs to be an integral part of your media plan. Donors and recipients both want the encouragement of seeing how their hard work has paid off, so tell their stories of triumph and progress in order to keep them motivated and engaged.

There is nothing that can’t be achieved when we work together for the betterment of those less fortunate than ourselves. Let your organization’s story be an inspiration and catalyst for  great things, and do it through positive reenforcement. Let’s all strive to make our stories the hope filled light in a negative media world.


About the author: Olivia is a senior at the University of Iowa pursuing a degree in journalism and mass communication as well as a certificate in writing. She is interested in how effective writing can benefit non-profit causes as well as traditional media. In her free time she enjoys reading, and photography, and has a passion for travel. 



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