The Nonprofit Storyteller’s Triple Bottom Line

July 18, 2016


As nonprofit communicators, let’s ask ourselves this: Are our stories only successful if they actually motivate people to give?

Or are we looking to change public attitudes about our work? Can a story actually help us achieve our mission of helping others gain empowerment, freedom, health, or security?

In the corporate world people talk of the Triple Bottom Line: responsible companies make decisions that help them benefit People, Planet, and Profit. I think a Triple Bottom Line also exists for nonprofit communicators and fundraisers.

The nonprofit storyteller's triple bottom line

Our nonprofit stories should:

  1. Empower the PEOPLE we intend to help;
  2. Support the PLANET (the social sector ecosystem); and
  3. Drive PROFIT (or funding for our cause).

We can’t only ask whether a communication strategy “works” for fundraising; we should also ask, “how are we empowering this girl by helping tell her story,” rather than objectifying and further marginalizing her on a public scale? Are our stories damaging the public’s understanding of the problem, and their perceived ability to make a difference? How does our content affect the way nonprofits and “beneficiaries” view themselves in the system?

A great first step to take is helping the people you serve tell their own stories.

We’ve found that stories with first-person narratives not only raise more money, but they also empower the storytellers themselves, and strengthen the social sector.

As we’re learning and growing in our work, we can’t just settle for one or two of these bottom lines. We’re aiming for a good balance of all three, and we should be aware when we’re making tradeoffs. This is the only way we can succeed in the long run.

Featured Photo: Simple Surgery to Restore Sight to Ethiopians by Orbis Ireland

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