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Getting started with storytelling

The idea of adding something as challenging as storytelling to your already busy day may feel overwhelming. However, this does not have to be the case. Stories are all around you, and you can gather them in the course of your work over a long period of time.

Creating a story bank

Your story bank is a space where people can quickly gather a collection of narratives that you can have on hand to create presentations, quote in interviews, use in funding proposals or op-eds.

Your story bank can be a folder on a shared drive on your server or something like a Dropbox folder. It should contain:

    • A collection of good images that support your work. Consider hiring a professional photog- rapher at least once a year to help build up your image library.

    • A series of facts and stats. This is a good project for an intern researching your area of work and your organisational history.

    • Interesting quotes. All staff should contribute interesting quotes to your collection, including the words of beneficiaries, researchers, journalists and people in the field.

    • All presentations that have been created by your organisation, as well as relevant presen- tations from other organisation.

    • A collection of stories from people related to your organisation and your work.

    • Any video clips related to your work.

    • All prominent media articles featuring your work or highlighting the context in which you work.

Find ways to capture short, simple stories for your story bank. Storytelling can be integrated into your existing workflow as a mechanism to achieve your organisation’s goals in advocacy, fundraising, organising, or rights education.

You can recruit interns or volunteers to contribute to your storybank. Partner with a university department and ask students to do creative interviews or write stories related to your organisation’s work.

Getting started

A good place to start, when identifying your story, is to put yourself in the shoes of those who benefit from what you do. Your story could be about a single mother who fell pregnant at a young age and dropped out of school – but through your programme she has been able to finish school and is now employed, giving both her and her baby hope for a better future. It could be about a young boy who was being influenced by peers to take drugs and commit crime, but through your programme, was introduced to playing soccer and is now well on his way to representing his country on the international stage.

The most important thing to remember about storytelling is that the story is not about what your organisation does, but rather it is about the impact your organisation has on the lives of its beneficiaries (from their perspective).

Successful storytelling can also make your organisation stand out from the crowd – something that is becoming harder to do amidst a bombardment of constant messages on social media. Remember that your messages on social media are competing with the primary reason people engage with social media: connecting with friends and family. Good storytelling blends into those types of messages and gives people a compelling reason to follow your page.

Share the load

Successful storytelling by an organisation shouldn't be the sole responsibility of one individual. Stories can, and should, involve the whole organisation, thereby creating a ‘culture of storytelling’. Getting all staff involved in identifying stories will ensure your storytelling success. Different staff members are responsible for different aspects of the organisation and interact with different beneficiaries, and can, therefore, produce a variety of stories.

started storytelling

Structuring your story

Once you’ve identified the story, the simplest way to structure your story is to use the C-A-R method: Challenge-Action-Result:

    • Introduce the main characters and the challenges they Why should readers or viewers care about these people and their struggles? What is at stake?
    • Demonstrate the actions that the main characters needed to take in order to over- come the How difficult was it? How much time was involved?
    • Close the story with the result of taking these Do the main characters offer reflec- tion on what they have learned or how they have benefited? What has changed? What are the long-term and short-term impacts of these results? Is there any data that can support these results?

Planning your stories

Think about the end goal of each story. Make sure your goals are specific. For example, “raising awareness” is not a goal in itself – it is the means to achieve a more specific goal, like “raise awareness of breast cancer to encourage women to get regular mammograms” or “raise awareness of the needs of homeless people to raise funds for your organisation”.

Where possible, try to create goals that are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant (to your mission), and Time-bound.

Create a workflow for the stories. Decide who is responsible for editing the stories and who will approve the stories before they are ready in your story bank for use.


In this example, Nikki tells her story of discovering she has cancer, and the challenges she experienced accepting the diagnosis. Her story not only educates us about skin cancer but also shares how the CANSA support group helped her overcome her anxiety and schedule the necessary treatment.

CANSA - Nikki Overcomes Malignant Melanoma at 25

In my ignorance, I believed skin cancer was a white person’s disease. Never had I heard of a black person having such a diagnosis. In my opinion, black people just had sensitive skin and that was that. This is what I believed, growing up.


My skin and the sun had, and still have, a love-hate relationship. I made an effort to protect myself, but every so often I would get

sunburnt. I wish someone had told me then that if you are sunburnt just a few times you run the risk of getting skin cancer. I would’ve gone for check-ups back then, if I’d known.

Come 2015, two months after my 25th birth- day, I was diagnosed with malignant mela- noma. My melanoma was found on the lateral side of my left leg and had spread to my groin area. What I thought was a beauty spot or mole, ultimately grew to four times the size and had an irregular shape. The mere sight of it made me uneasy.

My doctors had said they could operate and remove the cancer. In the beginning I went in religiously for my check-ups; determined to get rid of the cancer. But my rational self, over- whelmed by my overly dramatic self, resulted in me avoiding two check-ups.

I was too scared. I woke up, got dressed, hit the highway and halfway there I would turn and go home. I was afraid of the unknown. The doctors clearly said they could help me, but at that point all I could think of was the absolute worst.

I found support and encouragement from the members of CANSA’s Champions of Hope Facebook Group for cancer Survivors & Care- givers, and I set a new appointment for the following Monday. Right there, on the spot, I was to be admitted.

Once I was brave enough to stare cancer in the face, I took it down.

Read Nikki’s full story on the CANSA website: and click here to support CANSA

Read next:

Ruen Govinder | Hashtag Nonprofit

Founder and Executive Director, Hashtag Nonprofit

Ruen Govinder is the founder and director of Hashtag Nonprofit. She has over 20 years of experience in consulting and managing online communications and technology for the development sector. She produced a series of e-books on communications strategies for nonprofits, and has worked with clients across Africa and in the United States.

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