The Future of Nonprofit Storytelling – Story Trends

Cara Jones
Cara Jones

When I left the TV news business, the only thing I knew for sure was that I wanted to tell inspiring stories. When I looked around most of those stories were coming out of the nonprofit world, so I decided to put my focus there. I believe that nonprofit stories will continue to be some of the most powerful of our time but that nonprofits will need to tell the following types to get the stories produced and noticed in the ever changing media landscape.

Stories that turn up the emotional volume
With thousands of websites and new videos created everyday, getting information off the internet, in the words of Mitchell Kapor, is like “taking a drink from a fire hydrant.” While audiences will no doubt continue to be bombarded with information in forms we can’t even imagine yet, the fact that human beings are hardwired to respond to emotionally resonant stories will never change.

In order for nonprofit stories to stand out amidst the noise, they will need to be more character driven, more vulnerable, more humorous or otherwise emotionally poignant.

Stories that involve employees and clients as storytellers
I recently read a story about a TV news reporter from Kentucky who covered a bank robbery with his iPhone and was able to turn an edited piece into his station in 20 minutes. I see this “citizen journalism” trend carrying over to the nonprofit space as employees are becoming storytellers and learn to shoot video, take stills and write blogs to share on their websites and social media channels. I see the same trend reaching nonprofit clients as well.

In tough economic times, nonprofits can’t always rely on hired crews or even their own employees to tell the stories as they happen so clients are becoming journalists themselves. I’m currently working on a piece about a nonprofit developing educational materials in Afghanistan and relying on video shot by Afghans to tell the story. We’re also involved in a year-long documentation of a nonprofit financial literacy program in which the clients themselves are snapping pictures for key moments we can’t be there.

Stories that say more with less
As online attention spans decrease, I expect that video will continue to be the medium of choice to share emotionally compelling content in the shortest amount of time. As such, nonprofits will need continue to learn to speak “video.”

But even this language has its limitations. Recent studies show that as many as 44 percent of viewers will click away after the first minute. While nonprofits audiences may prove more patient, their video will still need to aim to pack the biggest punch in the shortest amount of time possible.

Stories that involve donors
As nonprofits look to attract new donors in these economic times, they will need to not just tell compelling stories but pay attention to how their stories intersect with the stories of their donors. Donors don’t just want to hear the stories a nonprofit has to tell. They they want to know how they and/or their story fit in. One way we’ve engaged donors is through crowd funding that has allowed our donors to choose which stories they want told based on what they are passionate about. When they contribute $50 or more, we list them as a “supporter’ or “producer (for $100+) in the film credits.

Cara Jones is an Emmy Award winning writer, reporter, and producer with great passion for using video to tell compelling, inspiring human-interest stories. She has more than a decade of experience in broadcast journalism. Cara founded Storytellers for Good in 2009 to help nonprofits tell stories through video.

Cara also recently posted about how to get started in nonprofit storytelling.

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