Differentiate your organisation through authentic storytelling

“So what does your non-profit do?” is the most frequent question I get these days. Whether it’s someone in for-profit or non-profit, a stranger at a party or an international visitor, the key to telling the story of your organisation, and making an impact on your new friend, is simple: authenticity.

If you just launch into your standard elevator pitch every time someone asks you, most people stop listening a sentence in. Now, you’re just another faceless organisation among the many. It’s not because they don’t care - it’s because you’re not telling them an authentic story.

They’ve heard the same spiel from every other organisation. You’re essentially reciting the first paragraph of a Wikipedia page they could easily find themselves. If your answer is along the lines of “<your organisation/product name> is a <thing> that <does a thing>”, you’ve lost me already.

Tell me a story. Better yet, involve me.  Are you telling me flatly, like you’ve told it a thousand times before, or enthusiastically, like you’ve just started it, and I’m the first person you’ve ever spoken to about it?

Coca Cola ads don’t say “Coca Cola is drink that tastes great and quenches your thirst”. Coke is happiness in a bottle. It’s experiential. It’s all the memories attached to enjoying a Coke. Cause Corps is a micro volunteering organisation that is making doing good a daily habit. But that means nothing to someone who has never heard of us before.

From start-up to scale, I’ve told the Cause Corps story in its many incarnations, and along the way, I’ve learned the difference between a “cool story, bro”, and “a gripping anecdote, squire”.

LIVE AND BREATHE IT

To tell an authentic story, you need to have lived the story. Could you explain a book you’ve never read to someone? Give someone directions to a city you’ve ever been?  

You could look at the look at the Cause Corps website, and never attend an event, but, chances are, you still won’t be able to tell people about it. You cannot tell an authentic story you haven’t experienced firsthand.

ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE ORGANISATION

You may be the only contact this person ever has with your organisation, or the first which they do. How will they remember it?

Help them fall in love with it by telling them why you are, and provide them with an experience you want them to remember. To them, you are the organisation. Act accordingly.

USE EXAMPLES

Using examples in your work builds strong arguments. Couple your explicit knowledge with tacit examples, and if possible, show pictures or data.

Telling people “We run missions that are short in time, low in cost, and have a direct impact” doesn’t really communicate much. What’s “short”? What’s a “direct impact”? 

Instead, if you start by explaining why current methods of volunteering are archaic, and then showing what you do through pictures, you’re presenting a much more compelling story. “It’s so easy/cute/fun” they’ll say, and you will respond “That’s how all volunteering should be”.

 

 

To them, you are the organisation.

Act accordingly

 

FIND DIFFERENT WAYS TO CONVEY THE SAME MESSAGE

Making doing good a daily habit” is the mission, but what does it mean? If your organisation has one purpose, decide on how else you can express it.

Regurgitating the same line over and over actually devalues it. You should know the content enough to speak to it in your own words that a stranger can understand.

“Everyone, everywhere, no matter who they are should be able to give back”, or “Why don’t people volunteer every day?” are thought provoking openings which give you room to speak to the mission more specifically.

ALWAYS BE PREPARED TO GIVE AN ACTION

When someone enthusiastically asks “How can I get involved!?”, have a plan.

“Google us” isn’t a plan.

Business cards or branded merchandise can give a visual reminder of your conversation, but you could also try showing people your website on your device, and sending relevant links to their email.

Inviting them to an event, offering to catch up for a coffee, or calling them to have more of a discussion, however, is a far more personal interaction to have. This could be what distinguishes you from your competitors, or attracts people to your organisation.

YOUR LITMUS TEST

You’ve had a gripping conversation with a stranger, and walk away feeling that you’ve been the best ambassador ever. But, ask yourself: “Do I trust this person with explaining my organisation to someone else?”

They don’t have to know every intricacy of what you do, but at the very least, could they speak to your mission and your model? If not, what are you going to improve for next time?

A good indicator of your own knowledge is the grandparent test; could you explain your organisation to your grandparents in a way they’d understand? If you can, challenge one of your teammates to do the same.

SOME FINAL POINTERS

  • Know your audience, and perhaps more importantly, know when to stop talking.
  • Eye contact, confidence, and humour go a long way to making you (and your organisation) likable. Confidence comes from experience, but you can practice eye contact when talking with teammates.

WHILE confidence in talking to strangers doesn’t come naturally to everyone, neither does authentic storytelling. You’ll have to work at it in order to improve, but if you care about making your organisation stand head and shoulders above the rest, that’s an investment you can’t afford not to make.


Phillip has an undying love for willow trees, and desperately wants to spend a night with the ghost of Emily Brontë. A recent USYD grad, when he's not buried in a book, barbell, or yoga mat, you'll find him making friends with stranger's animals, travelling, or trying to convince people astrology is a thing.