Storytelling and Nonprofits


Had a fascinating discussion today with the Director of Public Relations from the Union Gospel Mission here in Seattle. This non-profit organization provides a wide variety of social services for homeless and less-advantaged citizens of the broader King County area.

In talking to Sharon about the Mission’s goals & challenges, it became clear quickly that their challenges are little different from those of us in the for-profit world. They have customers on two sides of the table – one customer group is the homeless, the other customer is the donor base (or potential donor base).

The Mission also faces the challenge of differentiating between themselves and their “competition,” which in this case is the myriad other worthy charities around the Seattle area (let alone across the country) that compete for attention in the news, in our email inboxes, and in our postage mail each day.

Most importantly, the Mission (and any nonprofit or charity) also faces the critical need to focus its attention on a core audience, and align its message and storytelling with the worldview of that audience.

For example, the Union Gospel Mission is unique among many other charities in that a core part of its mission is not only to help those in need, but also to bring people to Christ. This focus creates a natural and unique opportunity for the Mission to align its own worldview with the worldview of others – particularly those in the local Christian community.

How can the Mission take advantage of this alignment? Focus its message and its marketing strategies on the faith-based community. Create channels into local churches, congregations, Christian book stores and more. Actively promote Mission volunteer opportunities to local church youth groups, and then market the experience back to the participants’ families and home churches. Start a blog chronicling the stories of less-fortunate Mission customers who have found a higher calling thanks to the Mission’s work.

In other words, demonstrate through constant and diversified storytelling how the Mission is different, with a specialized audience that is predisposed to be most receptive to that story. This audience will be far smaller than thinking about “all King County residents” as the Mission’s possible donor base, but mobilization to give & volunteer will absolutely be higher as a result.