Date Published 10 Mar 2021
Read Time 15 minutes

The guide to impactful storytelling for nonprofits

Words by Jeffrey Effendi

This particular resource dives into an often overlooked group of the community sector as a case study, community legal centres, but still offers a number of storytelling tools you can leverage to attract additional resources if you're working in a nonprofit environment.

The funding vs value conundrum 

Similar to other nonprofits, Community Legal Centres (CLCs) play an essential part in the fabric of society — in its case, the legal system. For thousands of people and organisations in need, they’re a symbol of justice and the legal profession’s expression that everyone deserves a fair go when navigating through complex legal waters. Providing free or reduced cost legal assistance, CLCs still carry the same social justice spirit that motivated their founding members.

Not unlike many social good organisations in Australia, CLCs are too important for our community to lose. But the Federal Government’s wavering support for CLCs has made things a little complicated in the last few years — compelling them to tread uncharted funding waters. The Federal Government spends about $330 million on legal aid annually (0.015% of GDP). By way of perspective, the below image gives a good indication as to what the Government’s current priorities are.1

Broadening your long horizon communications

In the 21st century, we deeply believe it’s more important than ever CLCs understand the significance that branding and communication play in getting the word out and driving sustainable impact, slowly moving away from sole grant dependence and thinking more like an enterprise. In the past decade, two factors have dramatically changed the communications and fundraising landscape for nonprofits:

  • It’s more challenging than ever to reach people as a nonprofit, let alone a CLC.
  • Governments are increasingly reducing community initiatives of their funding.
Strategic brand thinking offers a path forward

In years past, people thought of rebranding as just a logo change. Today, people understand we’re really talking about changing perceptions and growing reputations. In fact, over the past ten years, nonprofits have made significant changes in how they communicate, particularly online. Branding ultimately helps clarify your messaging to stakeholders that translate to tangible impact. Don’t take our word for it, Stanford University’s Social Innovation Review said so.

If you need the numbers to convince you that branding isn’t just for corporates, here’s a small sample size that illustrates this. The findings from a well-known New York agency survey completed by 351 nonprofit decision-makers from across the United States in 2014 show a clear link between rebranding and fundraising.2

Organisations that made communications changes experienced many positive outcomes, including improved fundraising, donor retention, and recruitment. They saw a 14% jump in revenue, 23% in staff’s confidence to communicate the nonprofit, 26% in media attention and 18% in sponsorships after undergoing a comprehensive rebrand.  In a changing landscape, we’ve continuously encouraged our clients to think less like a conventional nonprofit to more like an innovative enterprise.

Amplifying history and heritage

More recently, Circle Green Community Legal, a local community legal centre in Western Australia and client partner of ours, recently rebranded after a merger between three legal centres. The consolidation between The Humanitarian Group, Tenancy WA, and Employment Law Centre WA provided a more comprehensive range of specialist legal services, but its different history and heritage needed to be told in a way that made sense for clients. Brand trust and equity became priority.

Finding your signature story

So, if a CLC is supposed to adapt and communicate by stories, how do we do it?

The good news is learning to ‘tell your story’ isn’t more complicated than sending a handful of spreadsheets and reports to a government department — it’s just a different science.

CLCs were first formed in Australia in the heat of the lawyer activism of the 1970s. They had aspirations of social justice and were pioneers of a new kind of lawyer-client relationship. This vision permeated every aspect of their organisation and advertising and guided every decision they made. Everyone knew what CLCs were. Everyone knew what CLCs represented.

But today, many people don’t know exactly what it is that makes CLCs so important. Some may have heard what it is a CLC does, or how they do it, but people have frequently mistaken CLCs for advocacy groups without understanding why they exist.

Using the Golden Circle Model (credits to Simon Sinek), we can begin to dissect layers of our CLC brand strategy. To illustrate, let’s break down how this might look for an imaginary CLC that helps low-socioeconomic status persons with debt issues.

What

Our CLC provides a free hotline for legal advice.

How

We understand the legal needs of those living in poverty and the reasons these people get into debt; administers free, one-on-one legal advice.

Why

Our CLC exists to break the vicious cycle of poverty in WA.

Your ‘why’ will be the cornerstone of your new brand strategy. You won’t necessarily write this statement at every opportunity, but keeping your ‘CLC purpose’ at the forefront of strategic decisions is vital if you want to appear genuine in front of a watching public. How can you communicate your purpose in a way that will resonate with your board? Prospective volunteers? Clients? Government? Corporate partners?

As a CLC, if you encounter issues with client confidentiality, remember that there are other ways to highlight your purpose. Your team members’ passions, a snapshot of your impact and how you’ve increased volunteer buy-in can all be crafted to create a supporting narrative.

Enshrining your Purpose Statement

You should now have the necessary resources to verify your ‘why’. Get yourself and your team to self-reflect. Ask your group: what kind of Australia is our CLC fighting for?

You’ll need to reduce your ‘why’ into a communicable statement. You could:

  • Incorporate a self-reflection task into your next staff meeting
  • Make it a priority at your next quarterly meeting
  • Canvass the opinions of your staff, volunteers, board directors and donors. Think, talk, brainstorm!

If the individual statements don’t match — or if your team can’t think of their ‘why’ at all — then you may have an identity issue that needs to be addressed. This is why DrawHistory exists — to uncover these challenges and crystallise your organisation’s vision.

Tell your story far and wide

Today, it’s essential that organisations become effective communicators across a wide variety of media. Organisations, no matter what they’re advocating for or promoting, need to be able to articulate their ‘why’. One of the world’s leading charity brands, charity:water, exude their ‘Redefine Charity’ promise at each turn. The below video is just one example that demonstrates this.

So what’s next for my CLC?

Let us know how you plan on packaging your ‘why’ on Twitter at @DrawHistory or send us an email at hello@drawhistory.com. Interested in learning more? Send us a message.

Useful links and resources

IMAGE ATTRIBUTION: Header photo by Joel Muniz on Unsplash

Author

Jeffrey Effendi

Founder & Chief of Innovation, DrawHistory

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