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How to tell your impact story

As humans, we love stories. For as long as we have had speech, stories have been used to communicate emotions and experiences.

Stories can be used for lots of different purposes – to educate, to provide pleasure, to solve problems. But here we’re considering how to use them to communicate the difference your organisation makes in people’s lives - your outcomes and impact.

Because stories are about how and why life changes, they are the perfect medium to communicate the difference you make. And yet, there are many dry, dull impact reports that are left to gather dust, unread and unused.

Here are some simple steps that you can take to ‘storify’ your impact reporting in whatever format it may take, to better engage and inspire your audience in support of your cause.

1

Know your audience

Different audiences will relate to different things. Know from the outset who you’re talking to. Always have them in mind to help you decide on the format and content of your story.

People engage best with something they can relate to – stories about people they have something in common with or are interested in. For example, you might tell a different story in Liverpool than you would in London. If you’re talking to young people, you might tell a different story to the one you’d tell potential funders. 

2

Set the scene

Help your audience to see and feel the situation at the beginning of your story. What are the needs you’re responding to? What’s the scale of these issues? Is there anything that your audience and your characters have in common?

If your audience understands why you’re needed and where you’re coming from, they’ll engage with your story.

3

Shape your narrative

A good story describes the journey your characters make when they engage with your services. Shaping this narrative well will create tension, keeping your audience engaged to the end. It will also give them a much better appreciation of just how much effort went into creating the end outcomes and impact.

The classic story narrative:

  • Beginning: your hero was living a normal life, much like yours or mine (or even better, your audience’s). But then something threw life out of balance - the ‘inciting incident’.
  • Middle: your hero battles to deal with this new cruel reality, aided by your organisation. There are ups and downs along the way as your hero struggles between positive and negative forces, giving two very different visions of the future.
  • End: things resolve into a better new reality. Describe the ways in which life is now better for your hero – this is your outcomes and impact.
4

Make it personal

It’s hard to relate to a load of numbers on a page or on a slide. The characters of your story need to have personality if your audience is going to relate to them and be inspired.

Bring your characters to life with the language you use and by describing individual cases. Give your characters a voice by using quotes, introduce some humour. This will encourage your audience to connect emotionally to the story.

5

Show scale

You can inspire and engage with an individual’s tale, but for your full impact story, you also need to be able to show the magnitude of your work and achievements.

How many people are you working with? Of those, how many people have you helped to achieve positive outcomes? And if there have been challenges, how did you overcome these?

6

Keep it short

The appropriate length for your story depends on who your audience is. In general, keep it concise. You don’t want your readers to get bored or distracted before they get to the end. 

7

Be accessible

A story should speak for itself – your audience shouldn’t have to do any analysis to find the point. Make sure that you aren’t expecting your audience to look through lots of data, or using any jargon. 

Further information

This blog post on the NCVO website gives examples of effective impact stories, illustrating some of the points made above.

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Page last edited Mar 08, 2016 History

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