Storytelling for community groups

Book on wood planks over beauty mountains landscape background

Here at Pure Arts Communications, among other things, I run two kinds of writing training – professional writing for organisations, and fiction writing (because, when I don’t have my PAC hat on, you can find me writing fiction under the name L.M. Merrington). One of the great misconceptions I encounter, however, is that the gulf between these two types of writing is huge and insurmountable.

In some ways, of course, they’re very different – but increasingly we’re starting to see businesses incorporating many of the principles of narrative storytelling into their communications. Why? Because as humans we’re hardwired for story, and narrative storytelling is one of the most effective ways of conveying information. Just how effective this method is can be seen in the phenomenal success of TED Talks, the most popular of which has garnered nearly 24 million views (yes, you read that right!).

So how can you start incorporating storytelling techniques into your organisation’s communications?

Understand your organisation’s story

Community groups and not-for-profits often have rich stories and histories, because more often than not they’ve been started by people who are incredibly passionate about what they do. Think about why your organisation exists and what drove the people who began it. What community need is it meeting? This sort of story – where you came from, where you’re going and why you care about it – is perfect for your website’s ‘About Us’ page. Being able to clearly articulate your group’s story is also crucial for fundraising, because people want to know what they’re supporting.

Find and emphasise common themes

A couple of years ago, I helped a community theatre group prepare an oral history project (through a series of video interviews) as part of their 50th anniversary celebrations. A thing that interviewees consistently said – no matter whether they’d been there right from the start or had joined relatively recently – was that they stayed because the group was like a family. Given that the amateur theatre world can sometimes be cliquey and elitist, having lots of clips of people saying that they found the group warm and welcoming was communications gold, because it showed how they were different and what their values were.

Be passionate, personal and authentic

One of the reasons storytelling is so powerful is because it connects with our emotions. People who are looking to get involved with a community group will probably use a rational basis for their decision – Is it close to me? Does it engage my interests? – but they’ll also be looking to connect on an emotional level as well. Is the group friendly? Will I fit in here? What are their values and do they align with mine?

One of the best ways to connect at this emotional level is to talk about your organisation passionately and authentically, and in a way that builds relationships. This may mean asking some of your members to tell their stories about why they joined and why they stay – testimonials are very powerful – but also showing the passion that your organisation has for its cause.

Being authentic and passionate doesn’t mean being unprofessional. It simply means finding a voice that’s unique to your group and staying true to your organisation’s values across all your communications.

Enjoy it!

Storytelling is great fun, and it can make your communications so much easier and more interesting. There are many, many resources for non-profits available online, so have a look around and give it a go. Even if you’re not a natural writer, you might surprise yourself!

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