Never underestimate the importance or value of a good story. While numbers and stats are the dominant intellectual currency of our day, and our regular conversations are often peppered with jargon and business-speak to keep pace with our fast-moving lives, we still respond to a good story the same way our ancestors did. In fact, scientific evidence has demonstrated that most people understand the world by ingesting data and re-contextualizing it as a story.
This is why non-profits need to be good storytellers. It's not enough to confront people with statistics or studies, no matter how accurate and compelling those numbers may be. It's not enough to discuss the "difficulties and obstacles facing indigenous people when accessing potable water” even if that's how we've been trained to speak in academic and business worlds. If thousands of people are dying of thirst because they don't have access, or are being intentionally blocked from, drinkable water, you need to tell that as a story! You need to appeal to the part of the human brain that internalizes information and stirs empathy.
Tell their story, and yours
Obviously, a non-profit will want to relate stories about the people they want to help. Whether the organization is aimed at stamping out a particular disease, improving the living conditions of improvised peoples, or combating a specific injustice or crime, there is going to be a story there. There will be people to interview, people who can share their experiences. There will always be cases to point to, historical facts that can be made real and relatable to others with proper storytelling.
But then, there is also your story. The story of your organization, why you took up your cause, what keeps you going. Non-profits are made up of people who care. The staff of any successful non-profit is usually made up of talented people who could explore more lucrative and less stressful employment options elsewhere, but choose to work with a non-profit for a reason. So, what are those reasons? Share them with your prospective donors! Empathy and motivation is contagious, sharing your story with others will inspire them to follow in your footsteps.
Pictures, picture, pictures
A good non-profit site should be a veritable photo gallery of pictures. There should be images of the people you're helping, images of your organization in action, images of the impact you've had and what's been accomplished. Contextualize everything with an image to ground it in reality and humanize it.
Take a look at the site for IJM Canada (a site we built and an organization we are proud to collaborate with). Every single page, interest point, and block of text is grounded with an accompanying picture. Whether it is an image of pre-intervention conditions, survivors living their lives in peace, or of IJM workers themselves, every factoid, stat, and idea is attached to an image of a living, breathing person. It's what makes the site feel alive, what makes it so immediate and grabbing.
Videos are even better than pictures. A short professionally edited video can do more to advance your cause than a pages and pages of written content. Not only do videos directly contextualize your cause in an immediate way, they're also much easier to share. It can be a tough to get people to pay attention, to come to your site and read through your documentation and realize that what your organization is about is important. But, it's very easy to share a two-minute video on Facebook. A small video that tells your organizations story can be a wonderful tool for advancing your cause.
Society has advanced, but our need for a good story is the same as it was 200 years ago. Make sure you're website is telling the right one.