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The guide to impactful storytelling for nonprofits

The guide to impactful storytelling for nonprofits

Nov 26Branding — Jeffrey Effendi

This exclusive guide is part of DrawHistory’s ‘Amplify the Good’ series. Our series focuses on the power of branding and what it can mean for civil society organisations (CSOs). This particular resource dives into an often overlooked group of the community sector as a case study, community legal centres, and offers a number of storytelling tools you can leverage to attract additional resources for your organisation.

The problem

Community Legal Centres (CLCs) are essential components of Australia’s 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 recently made things a little complicated – compelling them to tread uncharted funding waters. The Federal Government spends about $330 million on legal aid annually (0.015% of the gross domestic product). By way of perspective, the below image gives a good indication as to what the Government’s current priorities are.1

In 1997, the Federal Government spent $11.22 per capita on legal aid. Today, we are heading toward less than $8 per capita. That's almost a 30% decrease.

Mara Papavassiliou, Strategist, DrawHistory


Why do I need to adapt as a CLC?

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.

How is branding supposed to help me?

stat-clc-rebrandIn 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.

DrawHistory has developed this guide to help CLCs become better storytellers and more effective organisations in the 21st century.

1. Find my 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. The most liked brands capitalise on shared values with their stakeholder, and as a CLC, your story writes itself. You just need to learn how to tell that story in a way that’s authentic and effective for each stakeholder.



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 communication strategy. To illustrate, let’s break down how this might look for an imaginary CLC that helps low-socioeconomic status persons with debt issues.

Our CLC provides a free hotline for legal advice.

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.

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.

2. Distilling my Why

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.

3. Telling my story across mediums

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.

A relevant example

In 2016 DrawHistory worked with The Humanitarian Group to create a print advertisement in the West Australian newspaper. Our partnership culminated in assisting the Group with their highly successful Seeking Refuge WA crowdfunding campaign, which raised over $90,000 from community contributions at Chuffed.org.

Check out the Group’s ‘Losing Everything’ video, which powerfully articulates their CLC ‘why’.

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. You can also check out these other useful resources on your journey:

DrawHistory – Brand Discovery Workshops 

TEDx Talks – Zach King, The Storyteller in All of Us

Simon Sinek – If You Don’t Understand People, You Don’t Understand Business


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Jeffrey Effendi
Jeffrey Effendi

Jeffrey has consulted for hundreds of public companies, multinational nonprofits and government agencies on purposeful strategy, brand and design. He has been recognised as a Forbes Under 30 Listmaker and Young Australian of the Year Nominee.

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