Tension is the element of story-telling you need to communicate well in the midst of your organization’s crisis moment. Tension draws the audience into the experience…Emotions are an essential part to a master storyteller’s repertoire.
That’s from Dan Portnoy’s newly released book, The Non-Profit Narrative. I couldn’t agree with Dan more on this point, except in one nuanced way. Tension and emotion aren’t just necessary when you’re in crisis communication mode. Tension and emotion are necessary in every story you tell.
All too often when I engage with a potential nonprofit client the first thing they tell me is, our board has mandated that we can only show positive images and tell positive stories. We’re about inspiring change and improving lives. We don’t feel it fits with our mission to show the negative.
As Dan shares in his book, and as results from every test (regardless of channel) I’ve ever conducted or seen indicate, in order to inspire donors to action you can’t just tell the good part of the story.
Can you imagine a Disney movie that only told of the positive outcome? It would go something like this:
There was a girl. She got the Prince. They lived happily ever after.
Why would anyone pay to see that movie? There’s no tension. No emotion. Nothing to grip us and pull us into the story. Nothing to get us personally invested in the characters or their lives. Disney doesn’t tell stories like this because they know they won’t sell.
The same is true in nonprofit fundraising and communications. If your stories are all positive, that tells the public (donors and potential donors alike) that you don’t need them. Why would I give if you’re already successful? You don’t need my money. Why should I volunteer? You look like you’ve got everything taken care of on your own. Why should I share your story? It isn’t all that interesting, and I doubt my friends and family would care.
If you’re one of those organizations that prefers only to show the positive outcomes achieved at your organization, you ought to take a hint from Disney (and from Dan Portnoy), and learn to tell a compelling story that incorporates tension and emotions. It will do wonders for your results!
For more insights on telling your nonprofit’s story, get Dan’s book!