Guest blogger Claire Sterling shares some tips and tools for telling your agency’s stories.
Just as barking and tail-wagging are distinctly canine, and meowing and purring are unmistakably feline, storytelling is hard-wired into human DNA. People in every settlement on earth were exchanging stories long before they could read and write. Animal welfare work, replete with both joy and heartbreak, provides an abundance of stories we can draw upon to connect with prospective donors and adopters. We are fortunate enough to live in an age that offers great variety in both the vehicles through which we can tell our stories and the tools we can use to develop them:
- The Written Word – The written word remains a fixture within an ever-expanding universe of storytelling resources. An organization that makes extensive and imaginative use of written stories is Rescue Operation for Animals of the Reservation (ROAR), which rehabilitates and finds loving homes for stray dogs and cats on Native American reservations. ROAR honors the storytelling traditions of cultures it serves with Native American legends about animals, invites web visitors to write their own stories about how the animals in their own lives have inspired them through personal “Sage pages” and shares its own success stories about specific animals who benefited from the organization’s efforts.
- Photography - It’s often been said that a picture is worth a thousand words, and this is especially the case when it comes to individual animals in your care who either need or were recently placed in homes. In the case of the former, photos can help showcase the animal and make him shine via all your communications channels; in the case of the latter, photos of your adoption and rescue successes are an important tool when asking for donations, wishlist items and volunteer hours. Photos are often a key component of videos, enhanced by motion effects, text, music and/or voiceovers. The One Picture Saves a Life project, sponsored by The Animal Rescue Site, Petfinder Foundation, John Paul Pet and GreaterGood.org, is helping animal welfare organizations to make their photos the best they can be via a nationwide teaching tour; their website provides tips on pet photography and grooming. Petfinder also offers advice on how to get great shelter pet photos.
- Audio Podcasts – Radio-style interviews with those close to the work of an animal-oriented organization, or with its supporters and customers, can make for highly engaging stories that are relatively easy and economical to produce. All you need are a microphone, a quiet room free of ambient noise, a laptop and sound editing software. Podcasts are a staple among many media consumers — they can be accessed from anywhere, and their independence from visual content makes them an ideal choice for folks who want to rest their eyes after a long day at work, or who want to undertake visual tasks while listening. The podcast series “Take Me Home” on Pet Life Radio, hosted by National Association of Pet Rescue Professionals founder Susan Daffron, promotes pet adoption through conversations with guests from shelters and rescues about some of their favorite available pets. Over 100 episodes are available. For those new to podcasts, “How to Create Your Own Podcast” can get you up and running.
- Video – The power of video is in its multisensory nature. More of the brain is engaged in taking it in, and it is more memorable than any other medium. Fortunately, advances in digital media technology in recent years have meant that creating high-quality video is relatively affordable. It is now common practice for organizations with modest budgets to shoot high-definition video with a smartphone or standard digital camera and an inexpensive external microphone, and to edit the video with software on a laptop (nonprofits can receive deep discounts on both hardware and software through organizations such as TechSoup.To learn about what great videos are made of:
- Check out our blog posts, “Nine Do’s and Don’t’s for creating Ah-mazing Adoption Videos” and “Slammin’ Shelter Video Roundup.”
- Petfinder offers tips on creating and marketing videos of adoptable pets.
- Nonprofit technology consulting firm Idealware provides some advice on crafting short video story arcs in its article “Three Acts in Three Minutes: Screenwriting for Nonprofits,” which uses the formula for a typical Hollywood script as a starting point for creating nonprofit-focused videos.
Whichever storytelling format you use, know your audience and tailor your messaging accordingly. Make sure your story includes:
- a call to action
- an explanation of why and how the action should be taken
- current information that won’t expire quickly
What storytelling resources have you found that might be especially useful to other animal welfare organizations? Feel free to comment and share!