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How Storytelling Can Help Your Nonprofit Grow Its Membership

How Storytelling Can Help Your Nonprofit Grow Its MembershipThe new year is here, and with it comes a season for planning. Do your goals for 2019 include growing your membership? Whether you’re part of an arts organization, an association, or local club, increasing your membership base can make all the difference. 

So, how do you grow your membership? 

There are endless marketing tactics you could try to recruit new members, but every good marketing strategy needs to tell a story. Prospective members need to identify with your cause and see themselves as part of your group, and storytelling can help you achieve that. 

Here’s why storytelling works for many nonprofits, and how to get started.

Why Do You Need Storytelling to Recruit Members? 

Recruiting new members can be a challenge for many organizations. You may be able to rattle off a list of benefits of joining your organization, but convincing someone to become a member is more than just the membership perks. You need to give your prospective members a clear, compelling reason why they should join. One of the strategies you can use is to create a compelling reason that speaks to identity. 

In psychology, the Uncertainty-identity theory argues that people have a basic need to reduce uncertainty about themselves, their attributes, and their place in the world. Being part of a group, association, or club is one way we can reduce this uncertainty. 

What this means is if you help someone recognize that becoming a member can fulfill this need, they’ll be more likely to sign up. To do this, you’ll need to show them that your group’s values fit with their identity, and an easy way to do this is through storytelling. By integrating storytelling into your marketing materials, you can clearly show prospective members your shared values and beliefs in action. 

With all that in mind, here’s how to get started with storytelling for your organization.

How to Articulate Your Group’s Identity Through Storytelling 

Step 1. Articulate Your Group’s Identity

Any time we have to communicate our identity, we need to do some soul searching. Begin by setting out what your organization’s key values are. 

If your organization already has a mission statement, this will be your starting point. If not, ask your existing members why they chose to join the group. You can compare their answers to find some common values and motivations. 

The Sacramento Metro Chamber of Commerce is a good example of this. It has the following vision statement: “Advocating for and supporting the inclusive economic prosperity of our capital region by leading efforts for business.” The idea of inclusive economic prosperity is a clear value statement about the group and its members. 

Another way to come at this problem is to ask: What does it say about me when I join this group? Your marketing and communications materials need to answer this question for prospective members. The clearer you are about this answer, the easier it will be for them to understand why they belong in your membership. 

It also helps to be specific. For example, when someone joins an environmental club, that’s a clear statement of values: that person values the environment. But there could also be more nuanced values worth noting. Do they care about climate change? Or maybe they value local land preservation? To see an example of this in action, check out this video from the Sierra Club BC. 

Step 2. Find Stories That Communicate Your Identity

Once you identify these values, you can start using personal stories to show them in action. 

If you have an existing member that has a great story about why they joined, you could feature their journey to inspire potential members. Or perhaps you have a member who’s had an experience with your organization that encapsulates your values. 

Use your email list, social media, or other communications platforms to reach out to your members, letting them know you’re looking for stories and would love to share theirs. The Andover Center for History and Culture features short stories from members at the bottom of its website home page, and they’ve included a call to action for others to share their stories. 

Step 3. Tell Stories in Strategic Places 

Simply telling a story isn’t your magic bullet for growing your membership. But it will work infinitely better if you tell the story in strategic places. This means that you need to know where your prospective members spend their time online and offline in order to get your stories in front of them. 

If you’re not sure where to start, ask your current members how they heard about your organization. This will give you useful data as to how people hear about your organization. In turn, you can spend more of your marketing resources and capacity on those channels. 

By sharing stories that reflect your values, you will bring new members into the fold and strengthen ties within your existing membership. Storytelling is a useful tool for so many reasons, and in this case, it will help you build an amazing community. 

If you want to learn more, join me at my upcoming webinar, “3 Steps to Effective Storytelling to Grow Your Memberships,” hosted by hosted by Wild Apricot on January 29 at 2 p.m. ET. 

Hope to see you there! 

How Storytelling Can Help Your Nonprofit Grow Its MembershipVanessa Chase Lockshin is a consultant specializing in non-profit storytelling, fundraising and communications, author and founder of The Storytelling Non-Profit: A practical guide to telling stories that raise money and awareness, and the creator of immersive online training programs for non-profit professionals. Vanessa has helped clients raise millions of dollars, increase a monthly giving program to over 5,000 donors, improved donor retention rates, create donor stewardship plans, and develop winning digital strategies.

Topics: Storytelling Nonprofit Storytelling Membership Organizations