When communicating their philanthropic commitments and social impacts to stakeholders, companies aren’t just looking to inform—they are hoping to get something out of it as well, whether that’s improved public goodwill (which drives sales) or an enhanced reputation among job seekers, which makes recruitment and retention easier.
Maximizing these communications involves telling a compelling story while imparting the necessary, critical data, something that is more complicated than it might appear, according to experts at Social Solutions, an Austin, Texas–based software provider serving the charitable sector.
In a white paper issued by the firm, Combining Stories and Data to Better Prove Your Impact, authors Rich Dietz and Cheryl Black lay out some of the science behind effective communications.
“In general, the left and right halves of the brain process information in different ways. The left half of the brain is heavily influenced by data and numbers and the right brain is dominated by intuition and creativity, ideal for digesting stories,” they write.
They add, “It’s very common for people to favor one half of the brain over the other when they are processing information. Combining the analytical left brain and the emotional, word-influenced right brain gives you the opportunity to reach every supporter, ensuring the potential for maximum backing.”
In other words, corporate giving officers—like their nonprofit partners—need to craft communications that serve both the analytical and emotional connections that stakeholders and the public will have to the information.
Dietz and Black break this down further.
“Supporters feel engaged with these types of appeals because people are hardwired for stories. Brain waves tend to sync between the storyteller and listener, so appealing to them fast and keeping their attention with an impactful story is essential when you’re fundraising,” they write. “Stories about individuals are incredibly powerful. Your clients’ stories are unique and abundant—use them and highlight their success. These personal accounts immediately resonate with your donors because emotionally gripping stories, like success stories, build empathy between your donors and your constituents, so if they hear about how their donations directly impacted one life, they will be more willing to give again or for the first time.”
According to Dietz and Black, some tips for crafting better stories include:
- Collecting as many stories as possible from everywhere and anywhere you can—including staff, volunteers and nonprofit partners.
- Diversifying the stories you’re telling so you can appeal to all types of people you are trying to reach.
On the analytical, data-oriented front, finding the most relevant data and then reporting on it using best practices ensures that your organization is showing its full impact, according to Dietz and Black.
“When your organization tracks important data over time, you will have an easier time painting a picture of your mission’s effectiveness and how the work you are doing is impacting the people you serve. You are in a unique position to be more successful by providing concrete, provable results,” they write.
It’s crucial to have a combination of the two, they argue, to truly move potential supporters to action.
“The problem with using only stories is that they are too anecdotal. There is no way to prove that the single inspiring story that you got with one of your constituents is the norm,” they write.
“The problem with using only data is that it can be cold. While critical for moving your mission forward and making strategic decisions, some donors are not inspired by just numbers. Numbers are forgettable unless they are hugely hyperbolic,” they say.
According to the authors, the easiest way to combine effective storytelling and data is by leading with one and then complementing it with another. For example, start with a compelling anecdote that hooks the audience on an emotional level, then follow that up with data that fill out the message.
The opposite approach works fine as well. Start with data showing the impact in raw numbers, then follow it with specific, on-the-ground stories of individuals or groups that are benefiting from the program under discussion—put a face to the numbers that you started with.
The point is to use both sides of the brain to fully engage the audience in what your organization is reporting out, so that they fully understand your commitment to social purpose and, hopefully, walk away with a better opinion about your company, its products and what it’s doing in the world.
For more information, visit www.socialsolutions.com.