Hoop Dreams: Using Storytelling to Advance your Nonprofit’s Mission


In recent years, the power and popularity of storytelling has become commonplace. From TED talks to the rise of podcasts and online videos, more and more we are seeking and finding experiences that remind us of this most basic element of culture.

But there are still plenty of places where storytelling may not seem to be the most intuitive solution. For example, storytelling isn't something that naturally comes to mind when we think of board meetings, quarterly reports, or even fundraising events.

Nevertheless, brain research shows that stories are a part of all that we do because they help us:

  • Make sense of information

  • Shift our attention and energy from critical thinking to empathy

  • Align with one another

  • Feel motivated to take action

Any work that involves people - outreach, fundraising, marketing, or consensus building - always tells a story. When we recognize that, we can ask ourselves whether the story we are telling is the one we should be.

What makes a great story?

In a great story:

  • The story centers around a hero

  • The hero is confronted by a challenge

  • The hero must face many difficulties and rely on allies for assistance

  • The hero overcomes all obstacles and finds resolution

Stories can lead us to real change in our lives. Change happens when we see that something different is not just possible but better. It happens when the hero in us is inspired to do whatever it takes to make those possibilities a reality.

What stories can your nonprofit tell?

Everything we do in the social sector is about change, whether we are seeking to improve education, health, employment, environment, etc. The stories we tell must not only be about what we are doing, but also why we are doing it and who it involves and impacts. If we become good storytellers, we can inspire those we serve to act like the heroes that they truly are in order to create the change we all seek.

Antoine De Saint-Exupery once wrote, “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”

Consider what your team or organization is working to change and what stories might help you do so:

  • What people understand and believe to be  true. Stories can convey facts smoothly. Use data storytelling to describe the issues you are working to address, for example.

  • Current insights and solutions . Stories can teach and explain. Use quotes and case studies to provide models for how your teammates, organization, or others you know of have addressed these issues.

  • Actions. Stories can inspire and galvanize.  Use stories that showcase progress, highlighting how your audience can get involved.

The best part about stories is that they bring us together. No hero can do it alone. Together we can overcome the obstacles before us and celebrate a shared victory. Now that’s a story always worth telling.


Lydia Hooper is a designer and consultant who specializes in communicating about complex topics. She has partnered with more than 30 mission-driven organizations, helping them bring collective visions to life. Lydia has generously offered to provide a bi-monthly blog for YNPN about communicating tough concepts. She offers services and trainings in data storytelling, graphic recording, and communications strategy. Learn more at www.fountainvisualcommunications.com.

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