The 2 Approaches to Nonprofit Storytelling

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At the core, there are two approaches to storytelling. There are why-focused stories and what-focused stories. Sometimes these two overlap, but they're starting place is different. Let's break down the difference in approaches and determine when it's best to use which method.

What Stories

A what story emphasizes sharing the facts, including the details of who, what, when, and where. Televised news communicates this way. These stories lead with the facts and focus on them, often informing an audience on a topic.

The people that do this the best is Vox Media. Their stories are creative and visually appealing using mixed media. Vox's stories are entertaining while educating in a digestible manner.

When to use what stories?

When sharing information, it's best to use what-focused stories, such as explainers or systems and processes. Animated or live-action videos pair well with "what stories." The hard facts are the main storytelling approach here.

A playlist of what based story examples

Why Stories

Why-focused stories clothe the facts in a beautiful story that focuses on a person, their desire, and their journey. So, instead of the facts driving the narrative, your main character's journey drives the story. These stories are emotional due to the human experience, desires, and challenges. When done right, the experience is a rollercoaster of emotion. 

The biggest difference between what and why stories is the latter features a character with a strong motivation for what they're doing.

When to use why stories?

It's best to use why-based stories when you want to connect with your audience and share facts. Live action works great with these stories because they're human-centered. The heart of the character is the storytelling approach here.

A playlist of why based story examples

Checkout our article on the benefits of personal storytelling to learn more about connecting with your audience. 

Your desired outcome determines your approach to storytelling

Knowing your desired outcome is one of the first steps when deciding which approach. For example, are you trying to raise funds or explain the depths of a new policy? Either desire will lead you down a particulate path with some overlapping.

In all transparency, our team holds a biased view toward why-based stories for one simple reason. A why-based story can both inform and build empathy. Plus, most nonprofit video storytelling that moves people to action is "why stories." 

When we touch people's hearts, we can move them to act. Fact sharing isn't storytelling. Telling a story is sharing a significant emotional experience (S.E.E.). As Annette Simmons says, share your S.E.E. so that others see your perspective. 

No matter how juicy the facts are, facts alone do not help people experience another person's perspective. Facts inform, but they don't connect. Nonprofits like yours are in the business of connecting people. 

Checkout our insights page to gain more storytelling information and tips.

Tagged: Storytelling

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