8 Ways To Make Your Nonprofit Storytelling Stand Out

Your organization's storytelling can communicate legitimacy and inspire brand loyalty. Use these tips to create an effective nonprofit impact story.
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Simply having a social purpose is no longer enough to set your business apart.

Companies from all industries are increasingly jumping on the social impact bandwagon. From high-end jewelry made with responsibly sourced gemstones to buy-one-give-one brands, these companies are turning social responsibility into good business.

This trend is generally positive. After all, market-driven social impact organizations have the unique ability to spark consumers’ awareness, attention, and support for important issues. And consumers are clamoring for products that make a difference, too.

Unfortunately, though, some companies see social impact as nothing more than a marketing tool. Causewashing — in which profit-driven brands make exaggerated social impact claims — is on the rise. As a result, it's more difficult than ever for businesses with authentic social impact missions to stand out from the crowd. Not just that, but causewashing casts a shadow on businesses with legitimate social impact agendas. As consumers are forced to work harder to sort out what is and isn’t empty virtue signaling, they are growing increasingly wary of all social purpose brands.

The good news is that authenticity matters now more than ever. Your company's genuine commitment to a cause still can set you apart. To win the trust and loyalty of socially minded consumers, your social impact agenda needs to be part of your business’s DNA, not a bolted-on strategy to drive up sales.

If your business is authentic in its commitment to making an impact, your challenge will be to communicate your narrative so that consumers know you’re the real deal. And that means crafting an impact story that’s more than just a story.

Top 8 Qualities of Authentic Impact Stories

Consumers — and especially millennials — are increasingly capable of sniffing out the difference between cause-driven and causewashing. Your impact story has the power to communicate your legitimacy and inspire well-deserved brand loyalty. Here are the top signs that your impact story has the goods.

  1. Social impact is part of your organization's origin story. Not all businesses that adopt social missions along the way are engaged in causewashing. But if your business was conceived from the ground up with a social impact mission in mind, it’s a pretty strong indicator of authenticity. If that’s true for you, make sure it’s part of your impact story.
  2. You're measuring your impact. Market-driven social impact organizations that back up their cause-related claims with proof of impact inspire trust. In fact, one of the telltale signs of causewashing is that there’s not much to report in the way of actual results. Many companies that really are doing great cause-related work make the mistake of underreporting their impact. Use real statistics and numbers whenever possible. Then, connect that data to a real-world, tangible impact. Customers want to know that their purchase is making a real difference. It’s your job to help them understand how that’s true. If you succeed in making it something participatory and real, the measure of your impact will build loyalty. Even better, it will become part of your customers’ referral story.
  3. You set impact goals alongside profitability goals. Your impact goals are a measure of your commitment to making a difference rather than just making a buck. Publish these goals and use them to tell your impact story. Your transparency in this area will let your customers know you’re serious about making an impact.
  4. Impact is an intrinsic part of all your communications. When impact is just a marketing ploy, it tends to take up relatively little space in a company’s overall program of communications. If, on the other hand, it is intrinsic to the fabric of your company, it will naturally be a part of all of your communications — both internal and external. In this sense, your commitment to your cause both encompasses and extends beyond your impact story.
  5. Your impact story is integrated into your operations on every level. Your impact story isn’t an ancillary activity that only your marketing team is aware of. It’s a living, breathing part of what your business does, day in and day out. This means that everything from your operations and supply chain to your hiring practices and training protocol are structured to maximize impact. Making your operational choices a part of your impact story shows people the depth of your commitment to your cause.
  6. Your entire staff is on board with your social impact mission. Authentic social purpose brands attract and hire people who are passionate about making an impact. When everyone on the team is committed and aligned around your cause, they are willing to go the extra mile to do the best work possible. Not only that, but your team is naturally geared toward making business decisions through the lens of your cause and impact goals. Having a cause-centric staff also impacts your customer service. Customers and clients who interact with your staff will know without a doubt your team is committed to making an impact.
  7. Leadership makes business decisions from your core set of values. If your business gives serious weight to a cause in addition to making a profit, these twin goals will naturally be reflected in your business’s core set of values. And your leadership team will make decisions that flow from those values. Be sure to communicate those core values as part of your impact story. Then, take it a step further by showing how those values impact your business decisions.
  8. You’re never willing to sacrifice your values for the sake of better business. Any market-driven social impact organization knows that there are plenty of ways to cut corners with respect to social responsibility in order to carve out higher profit margins. Many of those little corners exist behind the scenes, in places your customers aren’t ever likely to see. But those businesses that are truly committed to a cause wouldn’t sacrifice their values for the sake of better business. In fact, they wouldn’t even think of it as better business. Show your customers how committed you are to your cause by transparently documenting the ways in which even the smallest details of your business are in alignment with that cause.

Your business is sincere in its commitment to supporting your cause and making a social impact. By crafting an impact story that reflects that authentic commitment, you give consumers confidence that your brand — as well as your cause — are worth supporting.

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