Stories: A Cautionary Tale

Here at M&C, we write stories. Lots of them. Stories about challenges overcome, lives transformed, hope restored. It's one of the best parts of my job--helping nonprofits truly put a face on their good works. But that doesn't mean every story is worth telling. Here are a few cautions when it comes to stories.

1. Overused subjects--A lot of nonprofits have a go-to story ... often a recipient who is easy to reach and super willing to help. Problem is you see that story everywhere ... shortened on the website, in the annual report, the lead in the direct mail letters. It can make your non-profit seem like it's helping fewer people, not more.

2. Too complicated--Avoid stories that have too many twists and turns or find a way to simplify. Ask yourself what's the one crystal-clear message you want a reader to take away--and distill from there. If that's not possible, find another lead.

3. No pictures--Not a die-hard rule, but a picture is worth a thousands words. We try for those stories first.

4. Off the beaten path--A lot of organizations will step in and offer special services for a unique situation. This is a great thing, but not always the story you want to be shouting from the rooftops. It can create confusion about who you are and what you do. Emphasize your core programs first and be consistent.