Be a Story, Not a Pitch

Yesterday at the RallyPad, we had the privilege of hearing Tim Wagner give a wonderful seminar on storytelling. Tim has been a multimedia reporter for the UN, a film producer for the Public Health Institute, and a brand strategist for Habitat for Humanity and Kiva. Now he works with btrax, a cross-cultural marketing firm, and he runs Open Show.

Yesterday’s audience was filled with social entrepreneurs and nonprofit innovators, including Craigslist Foundation, Storytelling for Good, and New Incentives.

Here are a few fantastic nuggets from Tim’s talk:

  • Storytelling is like dating. Being a storyteller means building relationship with your audience and involving them in your story. Great storytelling builds trust over time, and helps you move from “just coffee” to something more serious. Don’t ask for money right away; make sure there are other ways to engage people through low-commitment actions like sharing a video or signing up for email updates.
  • Think like your audience. Tim is clear that this does not mean you should pander to your audience or change who you are. It means you should put yourself in your shoes and ask: “Do I care?” “What is boring?” “What is exciting?” Thinking like your audience helps you understand what media and storytelling techniques resonate most deeply with them.
  • Stay minimalist. Good stories have “catchy, consistent, and clear” messaging. They focus on the one thing that you stand for that makes you stand out most. There’s no need to over explain your mission. If people want more detail, just make it available for them to find.
  • Make it personal & universal. Cause storytelling must revolve around something that people can relate connect to on and individual emotional level, yet it must also help people feel like they’re contributing to something bigger than themselves.
  • End with action. Invite people to become a part of the story. Whether that’s sharing it, commenting on it, donating to your organization, or volunteering in some other way – don’t forget to ask people to get involved!

Here at Rally, we agree that storytelling is the most powerful way to connect with supporters and inspire them to contribute to your cause. (A little plug: If you’re curious how to share your story and raise money online, check out Rally’s fundraising tools.)

Thanks, Tim, for such a great talk!

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  1. Robyn December 3, 2011

    Thanx for the insightful info. As a new “Rally-er” I have struggled with how to engage and capture supporters without always asking for donations. I’m already thinking of how to invite people to contribute in other ways.

  2. Kaitlyn Trigger December 3, 2011

    Glad you enjoyed it! One of the best ways people can contribute without donating is to share your cause’s story with their friends. At the end of your videos and in the captions of your photos, ask people to spread the word through social media and email.

  3. Jesse December 4, 2011

    I especially liked Tim’s assertion that different audiences (or “stakeholders”) respond to different parts of an organizations story and to remember that when communicating. Always be true and authentic, but also figure in who you’re talking to and what their concerns are so they can engage easily with you.

  4. Tim Wagner December 5, 2011

    Thanks Robyn & Jesse – I enjoyed all the great questions people brought up in the Q&A. Three key additions to the above list:
    1) create a concrete plan of action – have a brainstorming meeting, see what people think you do vs. what you actually do, plan out what steps/skills you need to get your story out there and realize that some stories may need outside help to execute or distribute effectively
    2) Think about the medium – different stories work depending on the vehicle. For each story determine how best to tell it whether it’s spoken, text, audio, visual or something else.
    3) Don’t put it off – the impact will make everything else you do easier! Start with small, consistent steps.

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