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Nonprofits

Digital Storytelling for Social Impact

A new study shows what nonprofits need to harness the power of narrative and networks to enhance their reach, resources, and impact.

Successful leaders in business, nonprofits, and philanthropy understand the power of storytelling to educate and inspire people. And with digital cameras, social networks, and other technology making it easier for anyone to surface and share stories, digital storytelling is a potentially powerful tool for social impact.

But with all the new tools comes a lot of noise. The ubiquity of digital technology and the explosion of content on the Internet have made it increasingly difficult to break through, capture people’s attention, and engage them in meaningful ways. Organizations of all kinds must learn how best to harness the power of narrative and networks to create social impact.

To explore the challenges and opportunities in this intersection of story and technology, the Rockefeller Foundation teamed up with Hattaway Communications to consider the role that digital technology can play in elevating the practice of storytelling to improve the well-being of the poor and vulnerable around the world.

Our initial report, “Digital Storytelling for Social Impact,” shares insights and ideas from storytellers and thought leaders in entertainment, news media, brand strategy, technology, philanthropy, government, nonprofits, and business. The report highlights critical issues for leaders to consider in five important areas:

Strategy: Storytelling must be strategic. Social impact organizations often dive into storytelling without articulating clear goals, understanding the interests
 and motivations of target audiences, or setting measurable objectives. These strategic guidelines are necessary to craft effective content and design an engagement plan using appropriate platforms to reach the right people and mobilize them for the cause.

Capacity: Effective storytelling takes skill. The most meaningful stories often come from people with authentic and insightful experiences to share, even though they may not be skilled storytellers. Storytelling professionals with specialized creative and technical skills know how to turn compelling stories into high-quality content, but few organizations have skilled storytellers on staff or the resources to hire consultants to create content for storytelling. While plenty of tools exist, people don’t know how to use and apply them.

Content: Stories must be meaningful. In today’s hypercompetitive media environment, people notice and share only the most compelling content. Compelling and motivating stories create emotional resonance and human connection while serving a strategic purpose, such as driving people to take meaningful actions. Stories for social impact must show people as active agents of change, who play a central role in creating solutions to the problems they face. This preserves their dignity, encourages empathy, and inspires support from others.

Technology: There’s no one-size-fits-all tool for storytelling. With the sheer number of tools and platforms in existence, social impact organizations struggle to understand which to use to most effectively engage the right audiences. Most organizations need guidance on best practices for utilizing common platforms; they also need access to data that can help them target the right audiences.

Evaluation: We can measure the impact of storytelling, but we often don’t. Organizations that evaluate the impact of their storytelling accurately can learn what’s working and enhance their success. People charged with evaluating the impact of strategic storytelling within an organization often need guidance
 on how to set metrics for digital storytelling, as well as training to use readily available evaluation tools.

If you feel that your organization falls short in some of these areas, you’re not alone. The research identified an overwhelming need for thought leadership, capacity building, and resources to strengthen storytelling in the field. Getting it right can help your organization leverage the power of narrative and the reach of networks to extend your reach and enhance your impact.

Help is on the way. The ideas in this report have inspired a vision for a new storytelling marketplace to elevate the practice of digital storytelling for social impact. We envision an interactive platform where social impact organizations can get strategic guidance, create compelling content, learn from case studies and link to capacity-building tools.

To learn more and contribute your ideas, fill out this form.


What makes for an effective storytelling organization?

  • Senior management promotes a storytelling culture.
  • Everyone understands the organization’s values and what makes a compelling, strategic story.
  • The organization has a clear storytelling strategy, supported by appropriate content and platforms.
  • The organization uses meaningful metrics to evaluate the effectiveness of storytelling.
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COMMENTS

  • Mara Averick's avatar

    BY Mara Averick

    ON June 3, 2014 06:57 AM

    Wonderful outline of the power of narratives, as well as work that is being done. I recently read Jonathan Gottschall’s “The Storytelling Animal,” and as someone who often works with data and metrics, I see storytelling as being a way for nonprofits to communicate both what can and cannot be captured neatly in numbers. It’s also a way to escape and function within the limitations of psychological insensitivity to quantity in valuing public goods, and desire to act to contribute to a solution (as discussed in Joshua Greene’s “Moral Tribes”).

  • Andreas's avatar

    BY Andreas

    ON June 13, 2014 07:59 AM

    What a great post and report!
    You really have to think about values to make storytelling work, especially when it comes to nonprofit projects. It’s not just about one single action - sustainability is the main goal.

    We came up with a lot of ideas to tell stories and would love to discuss them with you!

    Check out our event:

    https://www.eventbrite.com/e/teddy-bear-airdrop-and-some-new-insights-on-the-future-of-brand-experiences-registration-11837437093

    Have a look and join in!

    All the best,

    The Tale Studio

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