101 | Sharing an impact story that packs a punch.
Today, we're diving into the exciting world of social impact storytelling. This article is a simple but creative guide on how to craft compelling narratives that will make your initiatives sound as tasty as a gourmet meal and twice as nourishing.
22 August 2023
We're about to delve into the power of storytelling and show you some simple techniques to communicate the value and importance of your projects in a way that will make people say, "Wow, that's amazing! How can I get involved?".
So, what exactly is social impact storytelling?
Social impact storytelling is a powerful tool that allows organisations to effectively communicate the outcomes, learnings and insights of their work to stakeholders. It goes beyond dry reporting and enables you to communicate your plans for achieving your goals and share your successes. By combining data, evidence, and personal narratives, impact stories become vehicles for driving positive change and inspiring others to take action and support your cause.
Five key elements of a great social impact narrative.
We’re going to unpack five key elements of effective impact storytelling. Think of these elements as the ingredients that will make your impact story a feast for your audience's imagination.
- Impact statement
First up, we have the impact statement.
This element serves as the foundation of your storytelling journey. It should clearly articulate the purpose of your initiative and the overall impact you aim to achieve. It doesn’t need to be wordy or complicated. In essence, if you’ve crafted a clear Theory of Change (see our Impact Planner tools), this can stand as your impact statement.
You impact statement is the North Star guiding your ship through the treacherous waters of social change. Make it clear, definitive and address the problem you're trying to solve. You need to be able to use your impact statement to ground you and your organisation in your purpose, and to refer to if your ship veers off course.
- Impact summary
Next, we have the impact summary.
This is where you give a quick overview of the key findings from your impact initiative. Keep it concise and transparent and highlight those juicy lessons you've learned along the way. Open with an instant attention grabber. You might consider starting your impact summary with a statement like, "We engaged over 200 community members to gather feedback over the last 12 months, and we found that 90% of our stakeholders reported an improvement in their living standards".
You’ll want to relate your impact summary back to your impact statement, because what you’re really attempting to do here is to state what you were trying to achieve (impact statement), and then state how you know you achieved it (impact summary).
- Impact evidencing
Now, let's talk about evidencing the impact initiative itself.
This is a longer section, where you get to spill the beans on how you conducted your specific project, program or initiative and the data you collected to evidence its success.
You’ll want to outline the activities you undertook to achieve your desired outcome/s, and how you went about collecting the data that demonstrates success. By sharing your methodology, you demonstrate the rigour and validity of your impact evidencing. It's like showing off your creative kitchen where all the magic happens.
Some initiatives might have a range of methods for collecting data, so it follows that this section might include a number of key findings and speak to how those findings come together to provide an overall picture of change.
For some handy ideas on data, methods and evidencing, see our previous Insight Article here.
- Impact dimensions
We can’t forget the impact dimensions.
Beyond numbers (which most often signify outputs, rather than outcomes or impact), you’ll also need to make sure you’ve considered how to communicate the ‘human’ element of these dimensions. To make your impact story truly engaging, incorporate personal narratives. Bring your initiatives to life by sharing stories or testimonials of individuals or communities that have been positively affected by your work, or including surveys that build in space for open-ended questions to capture the richness not inherent in pure numbers or scales. This creates an emotional connection and provides a human perspective that will resonate with your audience. It's like adding a dash of hot sauce to your impact story. It gives it that extra kick!
It's also important to remember that initiative impacts can be both positive and negative, and intended or unintended. Documenting these elements creates a more authentic and accountable story and gives a project or program room to evolve and improve.
- Future actions
But wait, there's more!
Never underestimate the power of articulating your future actions and intentions. People are inspired by the idea of building something that will make a lasting impact. Describe the next steps you'll be taking to continue driving your impact.
Share your plans for improvement and growth based on the lessons you've learned. This shows your audience that you're committed to ongoing progress. It can also demonstrate to funding bodies that their investment will leverage ongoing impact and opportunities for the target communities and beneficiaries.
What’s the secret sauce for an effective impact story? Effective communication.
Effective communication really is the secret sauce of your social impact story. It's what drives social impact and engages your stakeholders. The goal is to engage your stakeholders, like funders, partners, employees, and the community, and make them believe in the power of what you're doing.
Different organisations may have different approaches to impact communication. For example, a STEM program might share impact stories from the perspectives of students and teachers to showcase the benefits for different stakeholders. An affordable housing organisation could use the Five Dimensions of Impact (what, who, how much, contribution, and risk) to demonstrate their holistic approach. And if you're working on refugee training and employment, you might focus on goals related to skills development, job placement, and community integration. The trick is to tailor your communication to your specific goals and audience and find stories that are meaningful to them.
Different types of audiences might also respond to different types of media. While a good story on paper is one way to communicate your purpose and progress, why not consider other opportunities like podcasts, vlogs and videos, animations, and interviews? Get creative – sometimes the key to getting your great work out there is simply by making sure people can engage with your message, and it’s not always through text!
In conclusion, a powerful social impact story is crucial for organisations that want to create positive change. You have the power to attract funding, engage stakeholders, and inspire action. So, tell your story with pride. By embracing the art of storytelling, you can enhance your social impact communication and drive meaningful change in the world.
Author: Melanie Bainbridge
Melanie Bainbridge is a writer, sustainability professional, multi-arts professional and social impact advocate. Mel melds 20+ years of strategy, policy, project management and community engagement experience with communications and creative development skills to create inspiring impact narratives. Melanie is currently Senior Manager Knowledge & Insights, Lotterywest.
Acknowledgement of Country
The Western Australian Community Impact Hub acknowledges and pays respect to the Traditional Owners of the land on which we are based, the Whadjuk people of the Noongar Nation and extends that respect to all the Traditional Owners and Elders of this country. We recognise the significant importance of their cultural heritage, values and beliefs and how these contribute to the positive health and wellbeing of the whole community.