Storytelling in the Digital Age

Storytelling in the Digital Age

Non profit organizations command a world of potentially powerful stories, about their missions and mandates, about the people they’ve served, and about the people who’ve made the organizations what they are. Sadly, these stories often go untold, or are not shared effectively with the giving public.

hjc aims to help your organization present itself, along with its compelling history and mission in ways that capture audience attention. And to do that, we’ve rounded up a couple of best storytellers – across several media – in North America.

Mark Johnston has been making popular documentaries for the BBC, PBS, the CBC and other broadcasters for nearly two decades. That’s a lot of script-writing and story-editing experience, and it shows in everything Mark produces.

David Mudd has been writing direct mail and web copy, plus newspaper and magazine articles for years – in Canada and the U.S.

Paired, they bring a nose for stories to every project they take on, and an understanding of the details, profiles, anecdotes, and vital information that capture audience interest and spur action.

Mudd and Johnston are teachers. They can train and inspire your staff, to help transform your non profit organization into a more powerful teller of its own story.

It starts with our innovative story-telling audit.

  1. Mark Johnston and David Mudd would do an initial storytelling meeting in order to advise on any project (whether it’s for short or long form storytelling, in any medium).
  2. Mark Johnston and David Mudd will then consult and conduct research for what we call a story-telling audit. The audit could include:
    1. A review of the case statement.
    2. A review of donor responses (stories) that come in through the mail or that might be found in other mediums (or are presently unrecorded).
    3. A review of your database structure to confirm whether your field structure allows for storytelling information.
    4. The creation of storytelling tests in your fundraising program.
    5. The possible creation of new storytelling campaign ideas in all mediums.
    6. The creation of a donor survey that is structured to capture storytelling information from the donor.
  3. Mark Johnston and David Mudd will then write the creative treatment for the project.
  4. Production of creative assets can be provided for all items in the production budget (including for direct mail production, video direction, cinematography, sound, editing and all other post-production costs).

We had the opportunity to ask David Mudd a few questions on this topic. See our short interview with David below:

Q: Could you tell us a little about what you do?

A: I am a freelance writer and editor. I’ve done direct mail copy writing for years, along with reporting and opinion pieces for magazines, newspapers and web sites. I’ve also written research and promotional material for non profits and corporations.

I’m either versatile or an opportunist, depending on how you want to look at it. I’ve written about politics, cooking, organic farming, sustainable agriculture, veterinary medicine and environmental policy, just to name the top few. That’s in addition to fundraising packages for charities, advocacy organizations, and political parties.

I’ve also been a speechwriter for politicians and college presidents, proofed and edited a book about Bruce Springsteen, and recently wrote a country song called, “Why Must I Always Get A Loan to Get Along With You?” I’m waiting on the call from Nashville.

Q: Why do you think non profits have difficulty telling their own stories?

A: I don’t think all non profits find it difficult to tell their own stories. I think those that have defined their missions in direct, simple language have an easier time of it, because they can answer pretty easily the basic things most potential donors want to know: what do you do, how does it help real people, and can you introduce me to some of the real people your organization has really helped?
Sometimes organizations only need to be nudged a bit, and urged to step away from the pressing daily demands, to get back in touch with how and why they were founded. Then the unbroken narrative becomes recognizable again. This is important. These stories illustrate why what we do makes a memorable difference in the lives of real people.

It gets harder with organizations that, by design or default have never clearly defined their missions, or have amended them repeatedly, or have lost sight of them. Then they have a harder time telling appealing stories–which are almost always simple stories–about their work and why it matters.

Q: What are the main elements for a good story?

A: In fiction, the main elements are the beginning, middle, and end. In journalism it is Who, What, When, Where, How, and Why. In fundraising, it’s Problem: Solution.

The potential donor needs to know something’s just not right. Then he or she needs to know there’s a solution to the problem–even if it’s distant, or can never be fully realized–and that your organization’s faithfully pursuing or implementing that solution.

The other crucial element is characters. There aren’t many compelling stories without details, even fewer without characters. The people who contribute to charitable and other good causes want to know they’re helping people–unless the cause is animal-related, and then they want to know they’re helping animals.
These are the characters who suffer, and who are then redeemed by the reader’s decision to act, by contributing.

Q: How should non profits be using storytelling?

A: To attract and retain the interest of story listeners of course, which most of us are. We’re wired that way. Even with increasing demands on our time, changing and proliferating electronic media choices, and a world that seems poised to abandon the old technology of words on paper, people still want stories. And they won’t make decisions about supporting your cause until they’re satisfied they’ve heard the full story.

It gets harder to tell a full story as attention spans decrease, but that’s the fun and challenge of continuing to do this kind of work.

If you would like to contact us about working with David Mudd and Mark Johnston to improve storytelling at your non profit, email info [at]

posted on Jan 06

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