Civic Engagement and Advocacy Blog

5 Ways to Use Story Telling for Membership Marketing and Advocacy

Posted by Jeff Ryan on 11/27/13 1:16 PM

Why Do Associations Have Such a Hard Time Communicating to Members?

Of course you want to engage your membership and promote the value of your organization at once. But it is surprising how many membership based associations have a hard time telling a story that compels people to take action. It is equally hard, if not more so, to relate the story of value the organization brings to it's members as well. Why is that?

Many of us are taught that the best way to get people to support a cause is to show them statistics that prove our case.

We see this strategy manifested all the time in political ads, fund raising letters and mainstream advertising. Perhaps you rely heavily on statistics yourself. Yet, there is increasing evidence that leading with statistics may actually be doing more harm than good. The numbers can support a story, but can't be the story. It has to be put into context.

min wage story resized 600This graph uses numbers relay the message that no one can work a 40 hour a week job and afford to live. But does it tell the story of the individual who has to work two minimum wage jobs just to pay the bills and feed themselves? Is it compelling enough to make you want to take action? Is it personal?

In a recent article for Fast Company Magazine,  Jonathan Gottsall, (author of The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human), says it best:

When we read dry, factual arguments, we read with our dukes up. We are critical and skeptical. But when we are absorbed in a story we drop our intellectual guard. We are moved emotionally and this seems to leave us defenseless.

The Wall Street Journal is so aware of the power of emotion that their feature front page article, A-Hed, always begins by introducing a person and how the subject of the article effects them. (For example, an article about a gadget that debones a holiday turkey for easier carving starts by introducing the inventor and his quest to make carving easier.)

The reason why this approach is so effective is because it establishes an emotional connection with the reader and tells the story in a way that keeps them engaged from beginning to end. And now that your reader is engaged, they are much more apt to take a grassroots advocacy action.

Now that you know the power of story telling, how can you use this strategy to engage and motivate your membership? How can story telling drive your membership marketing and grassroots advocacy efforts?

  1. Interview a member (or non-member) that will be affected by a positive or negative outcome. What are the ramifications of the proposed legislation? What is likely to happen to this individual or their business (or both) if the legislation passes or fails to pass?
  2. Find out how similar legislation enacted elsewhere has affected individuals or businesses and interview those impacted. You may need to look out of state or out of country, but find an individual with a relevant story to tell that you can share with your membership. Find out who your most engaged advocates are and leverage their personal stories.
  3. Include a picture. Pictures humanize your story and make an immediate connection. A head shot, with the subject looking directly at the reader, is most effective.
  4. Use statistics to support your story, not tell it. Weave your statistics into the story to drive home important points. Make sure that your blog posts or advocacy landing pages are short and to the point with action oriented language.
  5. Include a clear call to action. Now that your reader is attached to the story’s outcome, be sure to tell them exactly what you want them to do. If there a number of ways they can help, tell them which are the most effective and why. You don’t want to overwhelm them with choices. Your goal should be to make it as easy for them to contribute as possible.   

What are some of the ways you are engaging your members in a story? It's important to remember that writing the story is just the begining. You also want make sure it gets read! Many associations spend a lot of time and resources creating compelling content, but they don't make it easy for their members to engage with the story.

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Jeff Ryan

Written by Jeff Ryan

Topics: membership marketing, grassroots advocacy