The Power of Storytelling: Takeaways from Social Media for Nonprofits in Atlanta

The Global Soap Project is a small non-profit that began in 2009 with a beautifully simple concept: collect a portion of the 2.6 million bars of partially used soap disposed of every day by U.S. hotels, reprocess it into new bars and distribute it to people left vulnerable to disease due to lack of proper hygiene and sanitation supplies.

Great story, but it describes the operational structure, not the mission of our organization. The real story is about the consequences of not having soap – it is both compelling and horrifying to consider what your life would be like living without it. Moving the story from HOW to WHY is critical – but it is difficult to find the messages that both inform and motivate people to get engaged and involved.  In the non-profit world, it’s a tough job that requires equal parts inspiration and perspiration.

Last week, the Rally team invited me to participate in the Social Media for Nonprofits conference in Atlanta, an opportunity I jumped at immediately.  I felt like a freshman basking in the light of possibility when Habitat for Humanity’s SVP and Chief Strategist Dave McMurtry took the stage. Not unlike Apple’s cult following (not judging, I love my Mac), Habitat has an enthusiastic base of volunteers and donors – one who actually tattoos the locations of each build he participates in. Tattoos, people. That’s commitment. To me, this was a major “ah-ha” moment – Habitat tells their story so well that their supporters now own the story—they are the story—just as much as the good work they do on behalf of the organization. We got a preview of their new website with amazing opportunities for volunteers to interact and post information – and all I can say is that it made me want to go build a house.

Another stand out speaker was Blake Canterbury who started his non-profit, beremedy, at the very moment in which it was needed. He wasn’t weighed down by strategic plans and by-laws – he just saw a need, asked his friends on Twitter for help and they did.  To me, Blake represents everything that inspires us to work in the non-profit world.  His message was simple and elegant. Stay positive in your storytelling. We all are trying to solve a problem. We are all devastated and moved by the problem, but focusing on the solution is a much better way to get others interested and engaged.

Our last session of the day was the most powerful. A roundtable with other attendees, where we each had the opportunity to throw a unique problem out to the table and then brainstorm possible solutions. THIS. WAS. AWESOME. I can’t tell you how many corporate meetings I have attended that would have been 100% more meaningful with a session like this. Like a band of brothers, we shared our challenges and gave each other ideas. In fact, my table gave me the idea for what is shaping up to be our first major social media campaign of 2012.

So let this be my love letter to Rally, the crew at Social Media for Nonprofits and all of the speakers and attendees who took time out from their day-jobs to get together and share their experiences. As we prepare for the New Year, I am energized and, more than ever, looking forward to bringing the inspiring story of the Global Soap Project to more people around the world.

Beth Penland is a Founding Board Member of the Global Soap Project. The Global Soap Project recovers discarded soap from hotels, reprocesses it into new bars & distributes it to vulnerable populations throughout the world. Follow GSP on Twitter and Like them on Facebook.

Please VOTE for GSP founder Derreck Kayongo, recently named one of the 10 finalists for the CNN Heroes award.

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