Embrace The Power of Nonprofit Storytelling with John Fulwider

“What does your nonprofit do?”

As a nonprofit organization, you’re probably familiar with this question—it’s a variation of the common icebreaker, “What do you do?”

The problem is your donors don’t really want to know what you do, says speaker and career consultant John Fulwider. At least, not in the way you think. More and more often, funders and donors want to hear more about outcomes, not just what you do. Nonprofits need to focus on the long-term, measurable changes they make in the world, before others will be willing to fund them.

Unfortunately, most nonprofits still tend to define themselves in the straightforward “inputs and outputs” of their organizations, instead of their measurable outcomes.

John Fulwider hopes to see that change. Last Thursday, Fulwider co-hosted an event with Jason Petersen, President of Turbine Interactive, called “The Power of Story:  Capturing & Sharing Your Non-Profit’s Compelling Message.” Dozens of not-for-profit organizations gathered in Lincoln’s metro area to learn how to hack into their nonprofit and create truly compelling messages for those outside of their organizations.

In his section of the intensive workshop, Fulwider stressed the importance of nonprofits learning to emphasize their organization’s real outcomes. Telling your story in outcomes terms means getting to the core of why your nonprofit does what it does.

Every Nonprofit’s Goal: World Peace

One helpful exercise : First, define what your organization does. Do they feed the homeless and provide shelter? Do they manufacture eyeglasses for children in developing countries? Create courses for struggling young mothers? Let’s go with the first example.

Next, ask yourself why your organization does that. To help people have a place to sleep at night? Great.

Now ask why again. Why do you want to help these people have shelter at night? Because you want to help raise them out of a downward spiral of poverty, right?

By digging and asking your organization why they really do what they do, you can get to your organization’s heart: the emotional core that really motivates what you do. Fulwider suggests that, on a fundamental level, this emotional core is all about achieving world harmony. The trick is to express the way your organization uniquely helps achieve the real goal of a better world.

Emphasizing Outcomes, Not Inputs and Outputs

Another perk of this exercise is forcing nonprofits to think about the deep outcomes that they’re achieving, instead of their superficial outputs and inputs.

For example, at a homeless shelter,  your inputs and outputs are the amount of people you fed and the amount of beds you fill on a regular basis. Your inputs include money, volunteers and food. Your outputs are people off the streets.

In contrast, what does an outcome-based message about a homeless shelter emphasize? The underlying outcomes of a homeless shelter include reduced-crime, stronger families and ultimately, changed lives. The most powerful outcome of urban missions is when an individual is given the opportunity to raise themselves up out of poverty and change their life.

A message based on a real changed individual is so much more powerful than citing gallons of soup distributed to a community, because it gets at the emotional core of what truly motivates giving. Outcome-based storytelling is the way to truly convince donors that your cause is important, that you’re changing the world for better.

Better Nonprofit Storytelling, Better Marketing

Ultimately, becoming a better nonprofit storyteller is about marketing your nonprofit in the most effective way possible. In fact, the difference between nonprofit and for-profit marketing is slim, Fulwider contends: both seek to stress the real, measurable outcomes of investing in their service. Good marketing appeals to an organization’s real, emotional message, for profit or otherwise.

What key ideas can nonprofits take away from Fulwider’s workshop?

1. Nonprofits need to tell their stories in outcomes terms. Focus on the long-term, measurable changes your organization makes on the world, otherwise donors won’t believe in your cause. Communicate the emotional core of your message—how you’re changing the world.

2. Nonprofits need to deeply understand their donors. In order to communicate your story in a way that really compels donors to act, your organization needs to get into real market research. Poll your constituency, research academic journals and talk to local research organizations. Consult the experts: don’t go it alone.

Learn More—Video Q&A:

Want to learn more? We got to talk with John after his presentation. Click below to access our video Q&As:

What struggles has your nonprofit faced about communicating its message to the greater public? 


Marc Koenig

Marc Koenig is a regular contributor of Nonprofit Hub. Marc believes smart, ethical marketing can make the world a better place, and strives to create content that helps nonprofits tell better stories, push their organizations to excel and do work that matters. You'll find him writing Nonprofit Hub featured posts, brainstorming infographics and tweeting up a storm at @npmarc - follow him and say hi!

November 7, 2012

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