Great Nonprofit Storytelling

Photo by Eli Francis.

I can’t emphasize enough the importance of great storytelling in nonprofit work. If you want to engage readers, donors and advocates, being able to tell a clear and concise narrative about the work your organization does and why is a requirement.

Whether it’s speaking with or writing to this audience, you should constantly be developing and refining the stories about your organization’s history, vision, campaigns, principles and motivations.

Your stories should be succinct. There’s no need to go into every detail about your organization or vision. When talking about your organization’s history, a quick overview is fine and, if speaking, should take less than two minutes.

Your stories should be about people. If you want to connect with someone else, your stories must focus on real people who are either doing the work or are affected by your work. Don’t focus on programatic details. Focus on the motivations of the people involved in your organization.

Your stories should describe a problem and a solution. Why did your founder create your organization? What motivated them to take an idea and turn it into a real-life campaign? Think of any brand and their founders, stuck in their parents’ garage building something out of the belief that their idea will change the world probably comes to mind.

Your stories should have feeling and emotion. A lot of our work deals with injustice in the world. That makes us angry, sad, frustrated and, ultimately, motivated to take action. We don’t do this work for the money. We do this because there is a wrong in the world and we want justice. If you want to motivate someone to support your organization, you must appeal to their heart.

If someone asks me why I work at Next City, this is what I say:

It’s not unusual for someone like me to say that they love Jane Jacobs. I was greatly influenced by her thoughts on the urban economy. She said that cities, when they’re at their best, are able to transform poor people into middle-class people.

That is my vision for cities. I want our word’s cities to provide opportunities for everyone who lives in them. Our communities should diverse, healthy, safe, beautiful and accessible. I believe strongly in the right to the city.

Unfortunately the world’s cities have a long way to go. Instead of creating a middle-class, some seek to lure it from the suburbs. Instead of providing the best public education available, some seek to destroy it. Instead of ending racism, some build on it through gentrification.

But there’s something that gives me great hope for the future of cities. Everyday we write about people who are changing where they live for the better. These are people who are making cities engines of the middle-class. By us writing about their work, I get to see how they inspire others.

One of our readers recently told me that because of our reporting, her business decided to start hiring formerly incarcerated workers. There are countless other people like her who tell us similar stories. This is what motivates me to keep our work and organization going. This is why I believe that someday we will achieve Jane’s vision.

We Should Have This Too

An apartment complex in San Marcos, Tex., one of many fast-growing communities hit hard by flooding. Credit Stephen Ramirez,
An apartment complex in San Marcos, Tex., one of many fast-growing communities hit hard by flooding. Credit Stephen Ramirez,

One of the great joys of working at Next City is when I see in the comments or on social media someone inspired by our journalism. The best way this happens is when someone says, “We should have this in my town” or “This is happening here too.”

Our feature this week is about San Marcos, Texas — a town I hadn’t even heard of — and how it’s being overrun by the university there. Housing for the booming student population has been at least relied on the private market. This has led to the increase in rent-by-the-room housing in the city.

I expected this article to be popular, but had no idea how popular it turned out to be. Thousands of people have shared it on Facebook, and it’s gone viral by our standards. In going through their comments I expected some backlash in defense of the school. But almost every comment I read either agreed or said that the same thing is happening in their small city with a big university.

It’s been an exciting few days watching all the traffic and comments come in. I couldn’t be more proud of the editors and writers I get to work with everyday.

For-Women-Only Uber Even More Illegal than Regular Uber

[Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images]
[Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images]
Chariot for Women, an alternative to Uber, Lyft and other ride hailing apps, is set to launch tomorrow. What sets this apart from the rest is that it’s for women only. Only women will taxi customers and only women will be customers.

Next City reported on Chariot for Women back in March, an immediately comments on Twitter rolled in about it being illegal to exclude men from either driving for Chariot for Women or being customers.

Vox, as they do, explains, “The biggest potential problem, though, is that Chariot for Women’s premise might not be legal. Civil rights lawyers told the Boston Globe that the ban on men would probably conflict with Massachusetts anti-discrimination laws, especially when it comes to hiring.”

While I’m not fan of ride hailing services (as they exploit workers), I think it’s interesting that many of the people who laude Uber for being so innovative are quick to denounce Chariot for Women. UberX operates illegally in places like Philadelphia, and that doesn’t seem to be an issue. So why not make one of the most dangerous professions and modes of transportation much safer for women?