Nonprofit Marketing: Stories — the most effective, least expensive way to market your organization

The most effective way, and inexpensive, to market your nonprofit is to share stories. Stories create credibility and energy around your organization, a “buzz” because people are talking about you. They key to telling stories is to understand what a story is, how to cultivate it and how it can create more action and energy around your nonprofit.

What is a story?

Stories are memories we share. Memories are experiences we’ve had combined with emotion. When emotions meet experiences, they become significant in our brain and stay. You’ve had experiences you don’t remember and feelings too. Combined, they form memories. When we share memories, it’s a story.


Why do we need stories?

Stories allow you to share your memories and connect with others. They help you make sense of those experiences and emotions. Sharing a story can help you excite and inspire others and create connections between disparate audiences. .

How do stories help you market your nonprofit?

This graphic is a story cycle that shows how that happens. A story is created, then shared, then absorbed by audiences, then those audiences are compelled to take action. This is how you create “buzz” around your organization. People are talking about their memories! Then they share and more people are compelled to action. Then the cycle goes on and grows, and so does your organization’s influence.


Think about this in your own life. You see a movie or read a book, you meet someone and between that experience and emotion (love or hate), you share the story of that memory. The listener absorbs and can buy the book, see the movie, meet the person…or not.

How to create a culture that values stories

  1. Focus on listening. I love to tell a good story AND I love to hear them. Listening to other’s stories is key to experiencing their full humanity. Tell stories in meetings, at events, and encourage stories as you move through the day. Ask for stories: “Tell me something that’s going well for you?” “What’s a great memory you’ve had this summer?” Be curious and listen.

  2. Encourage memory creation. Stories need experiences and emotion. When was the last time your board meeting created a memory that could be shared? How can you make sure your stakeholders have those memories that they will want to share? Think about how you can create memories in all you do. How can your events or meetings or volunteer activities create memories worth sharing?

  3. Empower sharing. Encourage others to share experiences with their circles of influence. Staff, board, volunteers, program participants and donors can all share their memories. When we make our events, our meetings, or our interactions memorable, then the stories will get shared.

Stories are the most reliable way to market, so use them! When others outside your organization share a story, it comes with so much more credibility because it authentic sharing. Focus on making memories and sharing those stories, and grow your visibility, connections and engagement.

Next time: what to do if the story is negative and it is the last thing you want shared.