Using Storytelling to Boost Engagement in Your Giving Circle

Dec 28, 2023
Santa Barbara Women for Good Gather & Grant Event

3 Steps to Increase Participation & Impact of Your Grapevine Giving Circle

Clear Benefits

Everyone loves a good story. It doesn’t matter if you’re young or old, rich or poor, a good story delivers lasting impact. Science proves it. Research from the Content Marketing Institute shows that using a storytelling approach can cut through noise and increase engagement by more than 30%. Other benefits such as improving recall, creating empathy, generating a sense of purpose, and promoting loyalty are well documented in numerous studies including those published by the University of Chicago and Annual Review of Psychology.

Why it Works

Our brains are hardwired to process stories. Storytelling activates multiple parts of the brain and stimulates a response to link the story being told to our own unique experiences. It provokes a release of dopamine which gives us a sense of connection and wellbeing. That connection enables us to remember more details and generates a desire to maintain a relationship with the storyteller. An infographic by Fast Company published in Forbes highlights some thought provoking facts about the science of storytelling.

So how can these principles help you to improve the way you communicate with your Grapevine Giving Circle members and prospective members? Outlined below are 3 steps that you can incorporate into your communication plans that will enable you to create a compelling narrative, package and distribute your content efficiently, and reach your target audience.

1. Creating Your Story

Start at the beginning. Determine the objective of your story. What do you hope to accomplish? For example, if I wanted to attract more like-minded people to my Giving Circle, I might want to tell people with similar interests about the reasons I joined a Giving Circle.

Be authentic and straightforward. Don’t assume people know you or your background. Introduce yourself and your interests then go on to describe how you heard about Grapevine and what prompted you to act and join the Giving Circle. By sharing your personal story, others are more likely to feel a connection with you and respond.

Karen Eber, an expert on storytelling, recently shared some tips on how to create a compelling story in her book, The Perfect Story and TedTalk: How your brain responds to stories. She says creating a short story that is both personal and relevant to the topic being discussed is more effective than providing just data. Applying this to our example above, creating a story about your personal journey combined with some data about the impact your giving circle has had on your community will resonate well with potential members.

2. Sharing Your Story

Customize the package. Once you have created your story, consider the channels you want to use to distribute it. Where does your target audience get their information? How should the information be formatted? There are so many choices now and the proliferation of social media makes it easy to post your message, but that doesn’t mean it will be consumed.

The best practice for sharing a story is to package the content in an appropriate format and length for the channel through which it will be distributed. For example, if you use Instagram or TikTok, short form videos or annotated pictures will work best. To share information in a longer form, use blogs, websites, YouTube, or podcasts. To improve reach, you can cross link short and long form content to one another to amplify your message further. This omnichannel approach will enable you to consistently tell your story across multiple channels, maximize the effectiveness of your communication strategy, and engage more meaningfully with your intended audience.

3. Reaching Your Audience

Make it easy to digest and respond. Once you have created your story and packaged it for distribution, you need to create a call to action. What is it that you want your audience to do? It is essential that you set expectations for your audience and be clear about what you want them to do and when you want them to do it.

In addition, make it easy for them to respond. It is unrealistic to expect your audience to jump through hoops to do anything. For example, if you want them to click on a link to download more information about your group, make sure the link works. The devil is in the details.

Finally, rinse and repeat. Research shows that effective communication requires repetition. It is unrealistic to post something one time and expect people to get the message. Keep in mind that social media posts aren’t always seen by all your contacts or followers. Social media algorithms determine which items are prioritized and highlighted in user’s feeds. If you post, repost, and cross post, you have a much better chance of your post being seen and ultimately heard.

My Story

Community service was hardwired into me from the start. My parents were extremely active in our Central New Jersey community. My Father was the Chief of the Oakhurst Fire and First Aid Department, an all-volunteer organization. My mom served on numerous committees to make our community a better place. I followed suit by selling candy and wrapping paper door to door to support my school and later volunteering for multiple charities focused on helping those less fortunate.

After the 911 attacks, I joined forces with several colleagues to support girls’ education in Afghanistan. I joined the board of Afghan Friends Network and became a mentor to Afghan women via Thunderbird for Good Project Artemis, which focused on educating and empowering female entrepreneurs in Afghanistan. When the US abruptly pulled out of Afghanistan, I turned my attention to my local community.

While searching for groups that focused on underserved communities, I stumbled upon Grapevine’s website. I noticed there was a local giving circle in Santa Barbara that was looking for new members and I joined the Santa Barbara Women for Good as a founding member.

It is extremely rewarding to be a part of a Giving Circle that has donated more than $60K to local Santa Barbara charities. My hope is that everyone will consider joining with other like-minded folks to support nonprofits serving people in need and incorporate consistent giving into their lifestyle. I share stories highlighting the impact Grapevine Giving Circles have on our communities in the Give, Grow, Repeat podcast.

The End Result

Communicating through stories, especially personal stories, is an effective way to build connections, relationships, and loyalty. Using these techniques to grow your Grapevine Giving Circle will not only improve member engagement but can also extend to increasing your impact on the nonprofits who benefit from your giving circle grants and the communities they serve.

Susan Aumack is a marketing leader with extensive experience in the technology industry. She is a founding member of the Santa Barbara for Good Grapevine giving circle and host of Give, Grow, Repeat podcast.