What do you think is more likely to drive volunteers and donors to action: basic statements about the work your organization does, or true stories about the positive change you’ve created, straight from the communities you serve? Nine times out of 10, the answer will be nonprofit storytelling through first-person accounts of how your organization has made a real difference in someone’s life.
Effective nonprofit storytelling is crucial for communicating the impact of your mission in a way that drives your audiences to action. One key way to tell the story of your organization’s impact is by giving your supporters a closer look at what you do for real people. But in order to gather perspectives from the people who utilize your programs and services, it’s necessary to arrange and navigate conversations in a nuanced way that is respectful to the people and communities you serve.Effective nonprofit storytelling is crucial for communicating the impact of your mission. Click To Tweet
Here’s how you can gather good quotes for nonprofit storytelling in an intentional and considerate way –– both when conducting interviews and using quotes in your messaging:
First, talk to the people on your team who work directly with your program and service participants.
It’s possible that you or the person who will be leading interviews is not in direct contact with the people your nonprofit works with every day. If this is the case, first talk to your program staff or others who have frequent, direct contact with those who utilize your organization’s programs and services. They’ll be able to point you to individuals who will be comfortable speaking with you and will have stories that are in line with your organization’s goals. They should also introduce you to the interviewee before you schedule the conversation and make you aware of any necessary background on the people you’ll be talking to.
Next, have a casual, face-to-face conversation with your interviewee.
It’s preferable to hold interviews face-to-face –– not on the phone –– because it’s more personal and easier to gauge your interviewee’s reactions to questions. If an in-person meeting is not possible, set up a video chat.
Once you’re face-to-face, be straightforward about why you’re speaking with them. Let them know exactly where their words will be used and make sure they’re comfortable with that use. Additionally, audio record your interview in addition to taking notes to be sure you can pull direct quotes later.
Don’t force your interviewee to answer sensitive questions.
Ease into the conversation by asking your interviewee about him or herself –– does he or she have any hobbies? Where are they from? What is their family like? Tell them a little bit about yourself as well and find common ground to help them feel more comfortable before moving forward to talking about more sensitive topics.
Prepare questions in advance of the interview because this will help you gather quotes and background that will fit with your messaging or campaign. However, these interviews should feel like a conversation, not an interrogation.
When you ask the interviewee about their background and experiences that led them to your organization, it may be a difficult time in their life for them to discuss. Don’t be afraid to venture from your written questions and ask follow up questions that may encourage your interviewee to open up, but don’t try to force them to answer.
Of course, once the interview is complete, thank them for their time and let them know that they’ll have the opportunity to review any messaging that uses their words and stories.
Using interview material
Use direct quotes.
Allow your beneficiaries to speak for themselves in your communications materials by using direct quotes when possible. This is especially important when describing background, prior experiences and how your organization’s services have impacted that person’s life.
Not only is this more respectful of your interviewee’s experiences, but it can often be more impactful for your readers to see a program participant’s exact words and gain a better understanding of the world from their perspective.
Use strength-based language.
The words you use in nonprofit storytelling can shape how your audiences view the communities you serve, for better or worse. So, as you draft your messaging, use empowering, “strength-based” language when you share beneficiaries’ stories and describe what your organization has done to help them improve their circumstance or their lives. This means that you should never write in a way that frames the people you serve as needy or helpless. As you write anything that directly mentions a real person you’ve helped and spoken with, ask yourself whether they would feel empowered or put down by every word you put on the paper.