Crafting Sticky, Emotional Stories That Reach Your Audience

I’m taking a break from my website strategy series to bring you a blog on storytelling that was originally published on TechSoup. If you like this, don’t forget to check out my other posts on storytelling

Sitting around the campfire!

Imagine a story being told to children around a campfire. Now swap out the children with adults. It’s going to be a different story, right? The more you write directly for your audience, the more they will relate to your story. (Photo credit: Scott Kozinchik)

Remember the old woman who lived in a shoe? Or the man who stepped in a puddle up to his middle? Or Peter Peter, pumpkin-eater who had a wife but couldn’t keep her? Even if you don’t remember the full rhyme, one of them probably rings a faint bell. That’s because these aren’t just children’s nursery rhymes; they’re sticky stories, or stories that stick with you for decades.

When we were children, we all knew how important stories were. Many of us demanded them every night, sometimes over and over again. We like to be entertained, and we definitely like to hear about the impossible.

So, isn’t it obvious that’s how you should be reaching your audience? And I don’t mean rhymes, but really high-impact, emotional stories, true stories. Because there are many out there waiting to be told.

Now I know storytelling is a buzzword right now, and buzzwords come and go. Storytelling has been a buzzword before, and will be again. As a former journalist, I was passionate about it before, and I will continue to be long after people have moved onto the next buzzword. But even when storytelling is not a buzzword, your story needs to be told.

And these stories you want to tell need to stick, they need to entertain, and yes, sometimes they need to talk about the near impossible.

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Tyler Riewer’s Adventures With charity: water

Tyler Riewer collects water with a 14-year-old girl. (Photo credit: charity: water)

Tyler Riewer collects water with a 14-year-old girl in the Tigray region of Ethiopia. (Photo credit: charity: water)

I’m in the process of writing a series of blogs about nonprofits doing storytelling well. In my last blog post in December (if you read my newsletter, you’ll know that I took a couple of months off to focus on my fiction writing) I wrote about charity: water.

In that post, I included two awesome stories that just happened to be by Tyler Riewer. So, of course, I looked him up, along with his background. I wanted to find out more about this guy who did such a great job with storytelling. Well, turns out, there’s a great deal to tell. So that’s what I’m going to do.

The story begins like this: once upon a time there was…no, scratch that. Let’s just start with, there is “the charming and wonderful world of tyler riewer.” And the highlights include a link to a series of videos where host Tyler takes you on a trip to Ethiopia to showcase some of charity: water’s work, information about his year-long hobby adventure (p.s. you can join), a video inspiring people to get to know their neighbors, plus creepy mustache photos, photos of recent acting gigs, and links to a couple of secret clubs.

But let’s start off by talking about “The Journey.”

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Nonprofits Telling Awesome Stories: charity: water (Part 1)

Woman drinking pumped water.

A woman drinking water from a charity: water well in the Tigray region of Northern Ethiopia. (Photo credit: Sacca)

I scroll through nonprofit websites and Facebook pages quite a bit hunting for stories that immediately grab and keep my attention. (Again, when I use the word story, I’m talk­ing about a true tale, nonfiction). I don’t usually find too many. Some are ok. But many are full of links to donation pages or press releases poorly written. Others don’t tell enough of a story and link nowhere. But a few are amazing.

Despite this, I strongly believe organizations have countless stories about the people they serve. They just have to dig them out (more on how to do that in previous posts). As I’ve said before, it can be difficult, and it’s time consuming.

The next series of posts focuses on nonprofits that are telling some amazing stories online. A few of the stories are older but good stories are timeless. This list is not exhaustive; please let me know if there are some great nonprofits stories I have missed.

Short Fundraising Posts on Facebook

So many people have written about charity: water as a model nonprofit in terms of online outreach that I hesitated to write about it again. But many of these posts are about its fundraising, which it does well. I’ll point out a couple of storytelling, fundraising posts that I liked, then I’ll move into some longer pieces.

Simple, yet impactful, here are a couple of posts from its Facebook page last year.

“Students of Balkumari School in Nepal used to get their water from a tiny stream 20 minutes away. When it dried up, the school was forced to close. But now that they have a tap station with clean water, there are no interruptions, and these kids get to spend a lot more time in the classroom. When you give clean water, one of the things you really give is education.

It’s a very short story, but you know from the first sentence that this nonprofit gets to know the people they are serving. Somebody on staff found out the stream is 20 minutes away. There isn’t room to expand, but for a fundraising story it doesn’t need to. It links to its website, and includes a fabulous photo.

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