Inside Philanthropy

A blog on philanthropy and nonprofit news and issues. A publication of Philanthropy Journal.

September 21, 2009

Connecting, part 4: Authenticity key for charity stories

By Todd Cohen

In the charitable world, now more than ever, stories matter.

Charities face unprecedented financial stress and competition for resources in the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

Charities also need to rebuild public trust that has been damaged by scandals in the corporate, government, media and charitable sectors.

Stories capture the indispensable role that nonprofits and charitable giving play in our communities.

Stories can teach, inspire and engage.

Stories can stimulate greater and more effective participation in the giving sector.

To do that, stories need to be authentic, true.

They also need to steer clear of overstatement, jargon, and the vague and philanthropically-correct blather than many nonprofits seem to believe they must use to avoid saying what they actually do or talking about the serious social problems and operating challenges they actually face.

Nonprofits should tell stories to help people understand their impact, the way they work, their need for resources, and the investment that people and institutions make in their organization.

To be effective, those stories should be direct, using words that are simple and clear, offering illustrations that are graphic and insightful, and getting directly to what matters.

A nonprofit should be able to tell its story quickly, whether to a potential donor, volunteer or board member, to a news reporter, editor or producers, to readers of the organization’s newsletter or website, or to a stranger on the checkout line at a store.

Charities matter because they take on the symptoms and causes of the critical problems in our communities.

To be effective, charities need the support of individuals and organizations willing to give their time, money, know-how, connections and passion to the organization.

Securing that support requires that charities excel at telling the story of the social or global problems they address, the difference they make and the operating challenges they face.

By telling stories that are clear and genuine, charities can connect with the givers and giving organizations whose support they need to help make our communities better places to live and work.


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