Sports can teach us a lot about nonprofit storytelling. In this episode, we’re looking at two examples of sports using storytelling to reach people and to teach people – two things all nonprofits need to do. Formula One uses storytelling to fuel explosive growth into new markets, and we’ll also look at how ESPN uses sports to shine a light on issues of life and death.
As a missionary, as a ministry or nonprofit leader, you are doing important work, but a lot of that work just doesn’t seem to catch on with the people you’re trying to reach. Sports can have a similar problem. There is always inherent drama in a good sports matchup, but not everybody is into the game itself.
Who are these people? What in the world are they doing? And why? Why would I watch something I don’t understand?
Formula 1 racing used to be a sport enjoyed almost exclusively by older, well-off European males. Complex rules, complicated courses, and a format that makes it hard to follow all meant the sport was just too difficult for a casual observer to enjoy. But recently, TV viewership for races has exploded, F1 events are selling out, and the stands are filled with new fans. Women are in the crowd–and young people. What happened?
The key driver behind the explosion of F1 racing into new markets is storytelling.
Drive to Survive is a Netflix show about the people behind Formula 1 racing. The show focuses on the characters–drivers and billionaire owners–and gives us an insider’s view. There is very little actual racing. The narrative introduces the sport to us a little at a time.
As these stories unfold, people become more familiar with the sport and its key players. They begin to care about the people involved. They gain a basic understanding of the rules. They can follow along.
Isn’t this what we want for our supporters, too?
ESPN’s 30 for 30: Pink Card tells the story of women in Iran and their love for soccer–and their quest for freedom. The series is about the injustices faced by women in Iran, as illustrated by the struggle of female soccer fans fighting for the right to attend soccer matches at the national stadium.
These sports shows do the same things your stories have to do: provide a gradual, understandable explanation of your mission without sensationalizing or trivializing it, and without alientating long-time supporters. (Okay, these shows might sensationalize…but I hope you won’t.)
Just as people interested in the “characters” who drive F1 race cars can learn about Formula 1 racing by watching stories on Netflix, soccer fans can learn about gender inequality and human rights abuses by listening to four episodes of the 30 for 30 podcast. With stories, outsiders can gain awareness about your cause, understand why your work is important, and how they can get involved.
Storytelling builds bridges.
Storytelling is what takes people who don’t know about your mission and moves them–step by step–into a supporting role.
If you’ve got a book, you need a course to go with it. Here’s my interview with the man who can help you do that, Dr. Lucas Marino, author of Monetize Your Book with a Course.
When you write a book, you’re making promises to your readers.
This will be worth your time. This will help you solve a problem. This will teach you to…
Even when your book delivers on those promises–even when that transformation is life-changing–you still only make a small portion of that $15 the person paid for your book.
But what if you had a course to go with your book? Well, then your book could show people that you are able to help them. The book becomes the calling card for the course, and you teach the same things for more money. If you’ve ever wondered how to do that, Dr. Lucas Marino’s How to Monetize Your Book with a Course is for you.
Write the book, and you’ve done the hardest part.
You’ve already done the hard work of research, organizing your information, and creating the content in written form. Even though the format of your course is different, the content remains roughly the same. Even better, you can hone it to meet the specific needs of your right fit client.
Once you’ve done the book, a course can be the next logical step for that ideal client. That’s great for you, because the course will naturally cost more than the book. And, once you’ve done the production work, most of the course fees belong to you.
Lucas says one mistake authors make creating a course is they sink too much into production costs before the course is proven. You don’t have to go all out. You can create a course with your smartphone camera, some lights, and a good microphone. If you keep production simple, you’re free to iterate as you find out what works for your clients.
They’re buying an outcome, the potential to reach an outcome. They’re not buying your course, they’re buying that opportunity.
Just like the people who buy your book, the people who buy your course are buying it to get an outcome. They have a problem, and your book (and your course) can help them solve their problem. You don’t have to (and shouldn’t) give them anything they don’t need to solve that problem. That’s another mistake course creators make.
Lucas says, “The worst thing you can do is overwhelm the learner with complexity, and actually make it harder for them to achieve results. Because they’ll leave dissatisfied. They won’t refer your course to people, and they’ll never achieve the outcome that you set to give them.”
Courses don’t all follow the same format.
There are many ways to deliver a course. Lucas says audio is quickly becoming the go-to format for many, because we live such busy lives. “If you have a book and you have a popular audio book, you could create an audio course which has a lot of downloadable, or printable content accompanied by audio files that take them through the whole deal.”
If you don’t want to be on video, you can create an audio-only course or a course that uses animation or slideshows with narration. People learn in different ways, and you can create courses in different ways. Lucas can guide you through the process.
Monetize, but measure success by your client’s wins.
Of course, you want your course to be profitable. But Lucas says focusing on the money first can actually hurt you. It’s the same with your course as it is with your book–your first job is to serve your clients. Decide what your students need to be able to do after taking your course, and make everything in your course support that transformation.
“Success is people enjoy the course, they consume it, they share it with other people. The financial benefits of that is a byproduct of that experience.”
Hopefully, with your book, you identified your ideal reader. That person now becomes your ideal student. If you’re a coach or a consultant, you have a built-in audience. Your course takes a place in your product pyramid along with your book and your other products and services. Everything, at every level of that pyramid, serves your client. everything is about helping them get that transformation they’re after.
As your students succeed, so will you.
Lucas Marino, D.Eng, PMP, is an author and entrepreneur. He is the founder of Marino Training, EAST Partnership, and co-founder of the Empire Builder’s Masterclass. Lucas helps entrepreneurs and authors launch and sustain online training products. He is a Thinkific Expert, host of the Conversations for Course Creators podcast, and author of MONETIZE YOUR BOOK WITH A COURSE. A military engineer by experience, he spent 21-years as a naval engineer and training manager in the United States Coast Guard.
Sometimes things don’t turn out the way we planned. When that happens, use the opportunity to invite donors to have a closer look at the important work you do.
We love a good transformation story: someone was hurting. Things were all wrong. Then your donors stepped up and your organization did life-changing work. Those stories are powerful and effective, and we love to tell them.
But what if things didn’t turn out so well?
How do we tell a story when it’s just the beginning of a long process of change?
How do we tell stories when we don’t know the ending?
I believe some of our internal conflict over these stories is our fear of giving donors a not-so-perfect picture of our mission. On the one hand, we’re seen as the experts. But really, there are so many factors beyond our control. We cannot fix it all.
I’m not talking about taking responsibility when we mess up (more on that another time). I’m thinking about those interventions where we did our best, and it seemed like things were okay. We saw change. We may have shared a story from a beneficiary who made a radical turnaround because of our work. But a few months later, they were right back in that unhealthy situation. Do you tell that story?
You probably don’t want to (or need to) highlight that person’s personal setbacks. But there are stories you can tell around the experience:
Explain the process of change your beneficiaries go through.
Focus on one aspect of the change process and help supporters understand why it’s such a hurdle.
Share a story about the setting that causes difficulties in the change process.
Feature something in your work that deals specifically with one of those hurdles.
This works for unfinished stories, too. For complicated stories, and for slow change. Use setbacks and the unknown to invite your donors to draw close. You’ll be glad you did.
Your donors are busy. They’re tired. They make decisions all day in a world where everyone is clamoring for attention. Here’s a simple way to help them “catch” your stories.
Have you ever opened an email from a nonprofit and the thing just kept going on, and on? Or it was formatted to look like their print newsletter, and turned into a maze of misshapen text on your phone? Did you fight through and read it? If you did (most won’t), could you recall anything it said?
The idea of sending a regular newsletter is not a bad one. Printed. Sent through the postal service. With a return envelope for donations. The problem comes when we try to send that same newsletter by email. First, the formatting is going to be a bear.
The real problem is when we try to put a bunch of stories into one email, readers can’t “catch” them.
They open the email (maybe), see how long (or crowded) it is, and move along to the next thing in their inbox.
Even if they love you.
Try this instead:
Write your beautiful print newsletter. Include all the key stories a newsletter needs. Then, spread those stories out over several emails.
One story. One email.
If your newsletter has a constituent story, a donor story, and a volunteer story, that gives you three emails to send with content from your newsletter.
Think of storytelling like a game of catch, and each story is a ball. I toss you a story; you catch it and read. If I toss you several balls at once, how many will you catch? Even if you’re super-motivated and nimble, it’s likely you’ll miss most of those balls.
However, when I toss you just one ball at a time, you can easily catch it and respond.
Your donors are busy. They’re tired. They make decisions all day in a world where everyone is clamoring for attention. Balls coming at them. all. day. long. You can be the bright spot in their day by tossing them just one ball at a time.
When you try to cram several stories into one email message, other stories dilute your primary story and your call to action.
Treat your emails like a game of catch. Send one story at a time.
Our stories have the power to move supporters along on a journey: introducing them to a problem, dispelling myths, offering hope, introducing them to our organization, showing them how we solve the problem, building trust, and inviting them to take action.
At any point in time, you’ll have people at different stages along these five levels of awareness (from copywriter Eugene Schwartz):
Unaware – They don’t even know there is a problem.
Problem Aware – They know about the problem, but not about solutions.
Solution Aware – They know about solutions, but not so much about your organization, the work you do, or what makes you special.
Brand Aware – They know about you! But they aren’t convinced you are the right fit for them.
Most Aware – They get it! They know about the problem, what you do to solve the problem, they know, like, and trust you, and they’re ready to join you (just waiting for you to ask).
It’s important to think about the donor’s journey, and where they are in it, when crafting our stories. We must also consider our organization’s goals (increase monthly donations, bust a myth around the problem we solve, attract volunteers, etc.) and position ourselves and the story accordingly.
Address potential donors according to the stage of awareness they’re in. Do this, and donors will be more informed, engaged, and ready to respond when it’s time to ask for their support.