Leave a Lasting Impact: Incorporate Impact into your Stories!

As a nonprofit professional, you probably have your mission statement memorized by heart and are beyond excited to share your organization’s purpose at a moment’s notice. Perhaps you’ve seen or heard first hand the power of a good story for fundraising or constituent engagement. You want to create presentations, complete reports, and tell stories about your nonprofit that leave a lasting impact. You’re keen to inspire supporters to take the next step in engaging with your organization.

But where do you start?

Storytelling is part art and part science. The art is where your creativity and imagination can really flourish. As for the science part, there are two components of stories that make a lasting impact: structure and data.

The Structure of Great Stories

You don’t need an English or Communications degree to tell great stories — though that certainly wouldn’t hurt! Just keep three components of an inspiring story in mind:

  • What Is
  • What Could Be
  • How To Get There

One of the most valuable professional presentations I’ve ever heard was by Nancy Duarte called “That Resonates with Me.” In the presentation, Nancy Duarte provides the elements of a good presentation, or any good story, really. She would later share similar insights in her TED Talk “The Secret Structure of Great Talks.” After thorough analysis of really excellent presentations, Duarte found great stories share a common pattern:

  • “What is” – status quo; current state
  • “What could be” – after a change is made; future state
  • “How to get there” – how the hero of the story moves from what is to what could be; usually with the help of a sidekick or a mentor

Think about your nonprofit and the story structure:

  • What is the current state and the problem you are working to solve? What would the situation continue to be if you did nothing?
  • What could the future be like? How might the future be different if your interventions are successful?
  • This one is the most fun. Who is the hero in your story: Your organization? Your program participants? Who are the mentors and supporters without whom the future cannot be realized? (Hint: Your supporters!) What did you do together?

Tell your story from this perspective and you’ll inspire your readers or listeners.

The Data Behind Great Stories

Data can infuse your stories with tremendous power, so long as the data is accurate and relevant. It’s a bit of a symbiotic relationship, really – the data needs the power of story to gain attention and the story needs the power of data to build trust in your organization and your programs.

“Data won’t get you a standing ovation; stories will. Stories inform, illuminate, and inspire. Tell more of them.” ~Carmen Gallo, “Data Alone Won’t Get You a Standing Ovation

In our recent interview with the Salesforce.org Global Impact and Engagement team, we discussed two keys to using data to tell better stories. You need:

  • Solid data about the status quo – what would have happened without your interventions
  • Reliable data about your impact – what happened as a result of your actions

In other words, your data needs to paint an accurate picture of true impact –actual behavior and lives changed – not only outputs from programs. This is an important distinction: an output will tell you how many pounds of food you distributed, impact data will tell you how many people who are less food insecure.

For Lasting Impact, Incorporate Impact Data

Without impact data, you’ll have compelling anecdotes, but won’t have a story that will resonate as deeply with supporters than one that clearly draws the connection between their support and your impact. That type of story is one where they will find themselves reflected back in the hero’s journey. . . the supporter’s journey if you will.

The Supporter’s Journey

In the world of nonprofit fundraising, it’s common for large donors or government funders to request impact data, while other supporters may not have access to this data. We’d encourage you to share impact data not just with those who ask for it, but each supporter. Supporters contribute to your organization because they believe in the change you want to make in the world! They want to take the journey with you!

Let’s imagine a supporter journey using what we know about story:

  • The world as it is – Food insecurity population in city X
  • The world as it could be – Vision to decrease food insecurity in city X by 2030
  • Data-backed stories not just of output, but outcomes 
    • Baseline before your interventions – what was the real situation before your interventions started?
    • Regular measurements during and after your interventions – make a connection between support and the interventions
    • Final measurement at the end of the reporting periods
  • Evaluate your impact data. Evaluate your data regularly. What is it telling you about the impact you are having? Are you moving in the right direction? Are you are well on your way to “what could be” because of your actions and the investment of your supporters? Do you need to take action to move things along a different path?
  • Tell the story with the impact data woven in at every step. Even if you are not ready to release all of your data in an official report, share what you are learning with your supporters. In this way, the supporter begins to sees a solid connection between their support and the impact. They can clearly see they are with you on this journey.

As they see their part in your story, they will be inspired and motivated to share it, too.

Impact of a Good Impact Story

Of all the resources we have to inspire change and transform behavior, few can outperform a good impact story. Weaving impact data, information, and insights into the supporter journey for each supporter, not just for government grants or large funders, will:

  • Inform your supporters of your impact,
  • Illuminate how their support made it possible, and
  • Inspire future engagement.

We can’t wait to read or hear your impact stories! If you’d like to connect with a Now IT Matters team member about tracking impact data in your CRM or sharing compelling impact stories, we’d love to talk with you.

RELATED CONTENT