Your impact story is the way you explain how your organisation creates change. You need to show that your work does actually work - whether you’re demonstrating the merits of your model to investors, or convincing a potential beneficiary that you can help them.
Impact stories are often tied up in in tedious technicalities, or they’re overwrought with obsessiveness about outputs and outcomes. So here are five tips for bringing your impact story to life - whether you’re writing documents, giving presentations, or just having a chat.
Start with why
All too often, people start by explaining what they do, without having shared their vision for the change they wish to see in the world. But there is no point bogging down your audience with the nitty-gritty of your delivery processes, if they don’t understand the big picture.
Instead, start with why you do what you do. No one explains this better than Simon Sinek, who coined the phrase “Start with why” in his TED talk on how great leaders inspire action. It has been viewed more than 44 million times.
Stories are essential
Our brains are conditioned to understand stories from our earliest years, which is why stories tend to be more effective at conveying messages than data. Stories are a powerful tool for building an emotional connection with your audience – which is essential, as you want them to care about your work.
Wherever you’re communicating your impact, weave in stories about people you work with. Think about ‘zooming in’ and ‘zooming out’. You might start by ‘zooming in’ on the story of how one of your beneficiaries overcame adversity – then ‘zooming out’ to share data, showing there are thousands more people experiencing this issue.
Stories don’t only have to be about humans. If you’re tackling environmental issues, you can use story-telling to frame the impact on animals or ecosystems.
For more advice on story-telling for change, try this article and this one, and the CharityComms’ Knowledge Hub. And, of course, Good Finance’s webinar on story-telling for raising investment.
Bring your data to life
Most people find numbers difficult to conceptualise when they’re written down. Bring statistics to life through charts or illustrations. Free tools like DataWrapper and Google Charts are great for creating data visualisation. Canva helps you create graphics and icons. By way of example, take a look at how we’ve used Canva graphics to illustrate the impact of our biggest UK programme at the School for Social Entrepreneurs.
(Quick note on data visualisation: be very wary of pie charts, unless they only have two segments. Not convinced? Read this Business Insider article on why pie charts are the worst.)
The data you share need not all come from your own impact measurement. Other organisations’ research can contextualise your work – for example, by showing the scale of a problem at a national level. (Be sure to include sources as footnotes.) The Office for National Statistics is a treasure-trove of government data. You can also look at the websites of large charities tackling the same issues as you.
Speak a language your audience will understand
It’s fine to use industry acronyms if you’re speaking at an industry conference. But otherwise, don’t assume your audience will understand technical language and jargon. Social investors that you’re pitching to will understand different types of finance, for example, but you can’t expect them to know the lingo for every industry that tackles every social and environmental issue under the sun.
Similarly, consider the motivations of your audience. Few people will care about what you do for the exact same reasons as you. Reframe messaging to appeal to them. Make your work feel relevant to their specific needs and interests.
Less is more
It’s tempting to share every last piece of data you have. But this can overwhelm your audience. Stick to a few key stats that prove your point, and don’t get too technical unless you have specifically been asked to. The person you’re speaking/presenting/pitching to will ask for more detail if they need it. You can always add footnotes or appendices to give depth to your findings, if you want.
Sophie Hobson is head of communications at the School for Social Entrepreneurs.