The Biggest Mistakes to Avoid When Telling your Organization's Story

I’ll never forget the first time I met with a group of donors when I was an Executive Director.

I had poured hours into a fancy PowerPoint presentation – filled it with impressive stats about our organizational performance and facts about the work we do and how we do it.   I was ready to impress!

So, you can imagine my surprise when I finished my presentation, looked out to the audience, and was met with glazed-over eyes and bored faces.

What went wrong? … I was missing the stories.

These donors were already convinced that they were giving to a worthy, successful organization.  They weren’t looking for me to raise their confidence in the organization; they were looking for me to inspire them.  And nothing inspires better than a powerful story.

Non-profits are using storytelling, now more than ever, as a central tool in fundraising.  However, many organizations still fail to master the art of storytelling and to tell powerful stories that inspire others to take action in support of their mission.

Are you using storytelling to its full potential?  Here are the biggest mistakes to avoid when telling your organization’s story.

1. Telling the story you assume people want to hear

It’s so tempting to tell people what you think they want to hear.  You know, that shining story about someone who had the perfect experience with your organization and whose life is changed forever.  These stories are heroic, admirable, easy to tell (and re-tell), and, to be frank … boring.

What are the stories that make your organization unique, human, real?  What gritty narratives and authentic characters get to the heart of why your organization exists and demonstrate what sets you apart from the rest?  What barriers or challenges have you and your organization faced, and how have you overcome the odds?

Dare to tell these stories, and you will create deeper, more impactful relationships with your donors and supporters.

2. Telling a story that you can’t relate to

Some argue that an organization should have one story.  It unifies the staff, maintains a consistent message, and promotes brand recognition.  I get all of that, yet I couldn’t disagree more.

Your most powerful stories will be the ones that move you most.  If you don’t connect with a story that someone else hands you or reads to you, don’t tell it.

Tell the stories that touch you, and they will touch others.

If you are telling the story of a character that has moved you, weave yourself in by talking about the impact the story had on you when you first heard it (your audience will probably relate).  And don’t dismiss your own story.  How you came to create, lead, or join your organization can be the most powerful story you have to tell.  It gives testimony to your organization and welcomes others to join the mission that you talk about with such excitement and committment.

3. Over-rehearsing your story

Once you’ve chosen your story, write it down.  Read it enough times to lock-in the important details, and then put it down.

When you’re preparing to tell your story, don’t over-rehearse the words.  Instead, reconnect with the power and emotion of the story.  Remember how you felt when you first experienced or heard the story.

When you tell your story from this place, the words become less important than the feelings you are conveying to your audience, and the emotion you’re connecting to within them.

I’d love to hear from you in the comments area below!  We’ve all made mistakes when telling our organizations’ stories.  What mistakes have you made, and what have you learned from them?  What story have you told that has had the greatest impact, and what makes it so powerful?

Thanks so much for reading and sharing your insight with us all!