Most people who work for a ministry or nonprofit are there for reasons other than money and perks. Many feel a sense of calling about the ministry’s vision or mission statement. They are passionate about making a difference, easing pain, being part of a solution, transforming culture, saving the world.
And sometimes they are SO passionate about their ministry’s work, they assume that everyone else is too! The need is so obvious to them—because they personally hear the testimonies and see the changed lives—and they forget that it’s not that real to the rest of us. They don’t realize how important it is to tell the story over and over again, in order to re-inspire their current followers and constantly attract new people to their cause.
That’s how I help. I bridge the gap between people who believe in the ministry and people who haven’t yet heard the story.
It’s more than just relaying facts. There’s actually a translation process involved, a cultural exchange. Effectively sharing a nonprofit’s story means avoiding jargon and acronyms. It means choosing just one point to make in an ad or appeal letter or web page, rather than unloading the whole story on someone who might not be ready to receive it. It means understanding all the other stories that compete for a prospect’s attention and being patient while trying to gain a foothold.
I learned this when writing for an international nonprofit called the Bible League. While on staff, I had opportunities to travel all over the world and interview people whose lives had been changed through the Bible League’s work. My job was to hear their stories, meet their families, ask questions, gather details, take photos—and then share those experiences with donors and prospective donors in a way that would open their eyes and touch their hearts.
There was a lot to share! The Bible League was involved in Bible studies, church planter training, some literacy education, and some translation work in more than 60 countries. And I would come back from every trip with dozens of stories, hundreds of photos, and reams of notes. (There was no “blogging” back then!) As eager as I was to share everything, I knew I had to choose carefully and share strategically, like selecting which seeds to plant in which soil at what time. I wanted that seed to grow and bear fruit in donors’ hearts as it had in my own. To achieve that, I needed to transport my readers to a place where they could feel the same things I felt, as though they were sitting next to me on a chopped-log bench under a baobob tree in tiny Guno Village, Ghana—watching the village elders defer to their chief, hearing the children sound out the letters they were learning, smelling the hot dust, seeing the shy smiles, thumbing through the worn pages of the only Bible in the village.
As with business stories and personal stories, there are a variety of formats for sharing a nonprofit story (and many new formats have been added in just the past few years!). Something I’ve always appreciated about the work I get to do is the great variety of stories and formats I’ve had experience with. For example:
- I wrote a video script for Back to God Ministries International
- I wrote the Glimpses of Providence blog for Providence Life Services
- I wrote fundraising appeals for Cary Christian Center
- I manage a Facebook page for Living Springs Community Church
- I have written funding proposals for humanitarian projects
- I have written Annual Reports for ministries such as the Bible League (1.7mb) and Providence Life Services (who opted to produce just a web version in 2010!)
Being an effective storyteller means understanding that choosing the right format can be just as important as choosing the right words.
Your turn to share
Here’s your chance to give a shout out (and some link love, if you know how) to your favorite ministry, church, non-profit organization, or humanitarian cause. Perhaps it’s one you donate to. Perhaps it’s one you volunteer for. Perhaps it’s one that reached out to you when you needed it. Use the comments below to tell us:
- Their name and website
- What part of their story first touched your heart, and/or
- What you think they could do to share their story even more effectively
Let’s hear it!