The Importance of Storytelling For Not-For-Profit Messaging


The ether seems to be jammed packed with information as people, groups, businesses and government all jockey to get their message noticed.

An interesting trend in this relentless need to be noticed has been the emergence of storytelling as a way of gaining and holding an audiences attention.

While intuitively it seems to make sense that a good captivating story is more likely to stir your audience into action than a page full of facts and statistics, I haven’t come across a great deal of hard data to support the notion that storytelling is an effective content marketing approach for the not-for-profit sector. That was, at least, till I found the following piece of research by the University of Southern California.

In a 5 year study the University investigated the best method of motivating Mexican-American women who are at-risk for cervical cancer, in large part due to a reluctance to have Pap tests which can save their lives. The research involved the production of two films containing the same 10 facts. One presented the material in a narrative story form featuring Mexican-American women. The other had a traditional “talking head” method using real doctors. Groups of Mexican-American, African-American and European-American were divided into two with one viewing the narrative film and the other the information based film.  All participants were surveyed several weeks later and then again at six months to see if there was a measurable difference between the two approaches and the findings were conclusive. Amongst all groups of women the participants who saw the storytelling film where more likely to have had or made an appointment for cancer screening. Predictably, the difference was most striking among the Mexican-American participants: 74% took positive action after watching the narrative film, versus 60% for those who had watched the non-narrative film.

So there appears to be empirical evidence to support  the value of storytelling but before we all we all try to reinvent ourselves as the next J.K Rowlinds or Tom Keneally’s of the not for profit sector we need to understand that a dud story may cause more brand damage than no story at all. To this end I found the following from Phil Johnson quite helpful:

“We can avoid a few common traps that make the majority of business stories tedious and dull. Whether you’re working on a brand story, an advertising campaign, or standing up to talk at a conference, here are three suggestions:

  • If your story does not reveal something personal and unknown about the person or brand (cause) , it’s going to be boring.
  • If your story does not tap into a specific emotion – whether it be fear, desire, anger, or happiness – it will not move people to action.
  • If your story does not take people on a journey where there is a  transformation between the beginning, middle, and the end, it’s not a story.

The best stories represent a simplicity of purpose and tap into the audience’s imagination so that they willingly go along for the journey. And the shortest ones can sometimes be the best. Ernest Hemingway famously wrote the six-word story: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

Coincidentally, Cause and Effective has a number of Associates who can help your organisation to communicate with its audience using a storytelling approach.

Author: This post is by Chris Gandy MAPS, the Founder and Principal of Cause and Effective ( – a group utilising their knowledge and experience to help cause-based organisations to make even greater social impacts. You can now follow Chris on Twitter.

About B-Cause

B-Cause is published by Cause and Effective. We help good causes find and attract effective leaders.

Thats our take on things. Over to you, please add to the discussion.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s