30 Storytelling Ideas to Captivate and Grow Your Membership Organization
Summary: Storytelling is the often-ignored element of effective member communications, yet, it’s a vital tool for connecting with the people you care about most. Here are 30 practical storytelling ideas to help you elevate your membership marketing efforts.
About an 8-minute read.
So, you want to engage your members?
Who doesn't? Especially if you're a membership marketing professional.
But it’s often easier said than done.
I’ve spent the better part of the last three decades helping membership groups of all sizes boost their member engagement and retention. During that time, I’ve learned a thing or two about what it takes for an organization to engage its members. And while I’m often trying to find a way to remind readers of the benefits of a discount program as an engaging member benefit, instead, I'd like to speak at a little higher level for a minute.
Besides my work in membership marketing, my side hustle involves writing books. My books are both fiction and non-fiction and along the way, I've discovered some valuable insights about the magic of storytelling.
Every time one of my books lands on a bookstore shelf, I've had to endure a torrent of criticism from editors, agents, reviewers, publishers, and readers. Despite the feedback on my grammar and word choice, it never fails to astonish me when a reader shares how profoundly one of my stories has affected them. In all candor, I don't consider myself a particularly strong writer. Perhaps it's imposter syndrome, or maybe I'm just being painfully realistic. Nonetheless, it surprises me when others mention their emotional connection to my work. It proves that even everyday writers like me can create stories that inspire and influence others.
Storytelling is often seen as an art form, but being an exceptional writer is not a prerequisite for being a successful storyteller. Many accomplished storytellers I know aren't the literary types who can craft sentences that make you pause and appreciate the beauty of their prose. Through experience, I've learned that good storytelling is less about writing skills and more about effective communication. It's about genuinely connecting with people and motivating them to care about the same things you do.
In the world of membership marketing, the value of storytelling often gets overlooked, but it's a critical tool for connecting with the people you care about most... and on a level that transcends mere words on a page or computer screen. Powerful storytelling can illuminate new and complex ideas, evoke potent emotions, and forge lasting connections.
Why storytelling matters
Our love of a good story is ingrained within us from birth. Storytelling surpasses cultural, religious, and personal boundaries, as our brains are naturally attuned to hear and tell stories. That's because we relate to them far more profoundly than with dry facts or impersonal data. The reason? Stories offer us a framework to understand and navigate our world.
Consider this: as we turn the first page of a new book, something remarkable happens within us. Unnoticed and often unacknowledged, our minds and hearts begin a journey that becomes profoundly personal and deeply emotional. It's not just about reading words on a page; it's about entering a world the author has crafted, a world that almost magically becomes a part of our reality. This engagement transcends mere observation; we feel the characters' joys and sorrows as if they were our own, we explore settings as if we're walking through them ourselves, and we face conflicts that resonate with the tangible challenges of our lives. This process is subtle yet intensely real. As the story unfolds, it becomes a mirror reflecting our own experiences, hopes, fears, and desires. Each turn of the page invites us not only to witness a story, but to live it, to let it intertwine with our own narrative. In this way, a good story becomes more than a collection of words—it becomes a deeply immersive experience that can leave lasting impressions on our hearts and minds.
The opposite is also true. When we start a book, we give the author a great deal of latitude. We give them every benefit of the doubt, hoping…waiting…anticipating that longed-for connection. But, when we DON’T connect emotionally, we feel disappointed, even cheated. When we don’t like a story–for whatever reason–we tend to tell everyone about our unhappy experience. Fortunately, bad experiences are few and far between. In most cases, we’re rooting for the author to tell us a good story.
Our enjoyment of stories is deeply ingrained, particularly when the characters we care about are redeemed, overcome obstacles, or achieve their goals. It reflects a fundamental human desire for growth, understanding, and resolution. This narrative mechanism is not just entertainment; it's a reflection of our inherent need to find patterns that pertain to our lives. To connect emotionally with others, and to find meaning in the chaos of our existence.
What does this have to do with membership marketing?
If you can tap into this powerful need for good stories among your audience, it can be a game-changer for your organization's engagement efforts.
Telling a compelling narrative can inspire, and, most importantly, resonate on a human level so it motivates your audience to get and stay connected.
Admittedly, we’re challenged by the diminishing attention spans of our audience. We must grapple with keeping our content fresh, relevant, and meaningful. The challenge lies in not only capturing the attention of potential members but also in continuously rekindling the interest of existing ones.
That’s why good storytelling should be an important and ongoing element of your membership marketing efforts. Good storytelling doesn’t get old. It keeps your organization relevant and memorable.
Storytelling examples that engage
Hopefully, I’ve convinced you of the power of good storytelling. Now, let’s look at some examples of how non-profits and other membership-based groups have used storytelling to help them champion their cause.
The first story is from an organization called Charity Water, which helps communities worldwide get fresh, clean water when it’s otherwise not easily available. They tell the story of Helen in a remote region of Uganda. (Image courtesy Charity Water)
Helen's life was transformed dramatically with the arrival of nearby clean water that was provided by the organization’s efforts. She was once burdened with the daily struggle of fetching water from a faraway well. That important task occupied most of her day. Plus, the burden of carrying ten gallons of water at a time—or roughly eighty pounds—took a toll on her physically and emotionally. She also faced tough choices for her family's use of that water. Should she use the water in her garden to help grow their food? Or should she save enough to drink or cook a meal? When Charity Water dug a nearby well, the introduction of clean water not only brought more time to be productive, but better health and an unexpected sense of beauty and joy. You can see the result on Helen’s face, as not having to haul water for miles had a visible effect on her appearance and her sense of self-worth. This change rippled through her community, fostering greater opportunities for education, entrepreneurship, and improved living conditions, illustrating the profound impact of a basic necessity like water.
At Team Rubicon, they tell the story of volunteer Brenda Nurre, a U.S. Army veteran and active member of Team Rubicon’s global relief efforts.
Despite a rare autoimmune disease limiting her ability to serve in person, Nurre adeptly adapted to virtual volunteering, playing a crucial role in the mobilization and planning of Team Rubicon’s relief efforts. This type of focus on their unique volunteers exemplifies the essential role your volunteers can play in your operational success.
Storytelling can be as simple as highlighting your organization’s special events or activities.
Balance Autism is a leading autism service organization that provides a balance of innovative therapy and passionate care for adults and children with autism. Their blog offers a “tell me something good” section that demonstrates to their donors and other supporters that their organization is active and successful at helping their constituents. This simple and easy storytelling method not only helps highlight the people in your organization but also the community you serve.
Utilizing effective stories can significantly enhance the impact of your membership marketing. When you create stories that are carefully tailored to reflect the unique nature of your membership group, they’ll help you connect in more meaningful ways with your audience.
Unleashing Your Stories
To ignite your creativity, here are 30 innovative storytelling ideas that will inspire you to enhance your membership marketing endeavors:
- Personal Member Stories: Share real-life stories of members, focusing on their experiences and the impact of your organization on their lives.
- Behind-the-Scenes Glimpses: Offer insights into the inner workings of the organization, highlighting the lesser-known people like long-term staffers, or anyone else who accomplishes a lot but doesn’t get much credit. One warning though: be careful not to be too internally focused so your stories come off as self-serving or otherwise lack relevance to your members.
- Personalize a Member Benefit: Highlight how a member has utilized one of your association benefits and realized some fantastic reward or benefit. (BTW…this is where your discount program can play a big part in highlighting the financial rewards from saving money with your association’s discount benefit.)
- Success and Impact Narratives: Tell stories about the successes and positive impacts of how your organization helped someone succeed, showcasing tangible results and achievements.
- Historical Anecdotes: Connect the present with the past by sharing historical anecdotes that underscore your organization’s legacy and evolution.
- Future Visions: Craft narratives that paint a picture of the group’s future aspirations and goals, inspiring members to be a part of that journey.
- Challenges Overcome: Share stories of obstacles your group has faced and overcome, emphasizing resilience and collective effort.
- Where are they now? Engage members with stories of well-known staffers or other key figures from within your organization who have since moved on or retired but are doing great things. Focus on how your organization has prepared them for success.
- Donor Spotlights: Regularly feature different supporters, highlighting their backgrounds, contributions, or unique perspectives. While it’s tempting to focus only on big donors, be careful that you’re not inadvertently making non-donors or lower-level donors, feel like second-class citizens.
- In Memoriam: Ask a member or former staffer to write a personal tribute about a member who has passed, focusing on their contributions to mankind, your industry, or your organization.
- Community Impact Stories: Showcase how your organization's work has positively affected the local community or a specific demographic, emphasizing the broader impact of membership.
- Milestone Celebrations: Share stories celebrating significant milestones of the organization or its members, like anniversaries, major achievements, or awards.
- Inspirational Journeys: Focus on members who have had unique, inspiring journeys, highlighting how the organization has played a role in their personal or professional development.
- Day in the Life: Offer a glimpse into the daily lives of members from various backgrounds, showing the diverse ways in which the organization fits into and enhances their daily routines.
- Global Connections: If applicable, share stories that highlight the global or multicultural aspects of your organization, showcasing international members or projects.
- Youth Perspectives: Feature stories from younger members or those new to the industry, focusing on their fresh perspectives and aspirations. Think of your “30 under 30” list, where you select thirty members who are doing great things.
- Volunteer Highlights: Shine a spotlight on volunteers, detailing their contributions and the personal satisfaction and growth they gain from their involvement.
- Expert Insights: Share knowledge-based stories from experts within your organization or industry, providing valuable information or professional insights to members.
- Creative Contributions: Highlight artistic or creative contributions from members, whether it's art, writing, music, or innovation, showcasing the diverse talents within your community.
- Holiday and Cultural Celebrations: Share stories around holidays or cultural celebrations, highlighting how members from different backgrounds celebrate and what these occasions mean within the context of your organization.
- Transformation Tales: Share before-and-after stories of members who have experienced significant personal or professional growth through their involvement with the organization.
- Hidden Heroes: Highlight the unsung heroes of your organization, such as support staff or volunteers, who play a crucial role but often stay behind the scenes.
- Cultural Exchange Stories: Feature stories of members from diverse cultural backgrounds, focusing on how the organization fosters cultural understanding and exchange.
- Innovation Spotlights: Showcase how members are using innovative techniques or technology in their fields, highlighting the organization’s role in fostering innovation.
- Member-Hosted Q&A Sessions: Organize Q&A sessions where members answer questions from other members, sharing their expertise and experiences.
- Cross-Generational Dialogues: Feature conversations between members of different generations, exploring their perspectives on industry changes, challenges, and opportunities.
- Hobby and Passion Projects: Share stories about members' hobbies or passion projects outside of their professional lives, highlighting the diverse interests of your community.
- 'A Day of Service' Stories: Cover members participating in community service or charity events, emphasizing the organization's commitment to social responsibility.
- Environmental Initiatives: If applicable, share stories about the organization's or members' involvement in environmental initiatives, showcasing a commitment to sustainability.
- 'Back to the Basics' Series: Create a storytelling series that goes back to the core values and founding principles of the organization, connecting current activities with foundational ideals.
The Big Finish
At the core of nearly every successful membership organization is a storyteller who possesses a deep understanding of their members' needs, interests, and motivations. These storytellers know how to navigate the delicate balance between promoting the organization, with the needs of members who want to feel a strong and vibrant sense of community. Good stories help you achieve that goal.
Now it's time for you to get creative and unleash your inner storyteller. Each story you share is a golden opportunity to not only inform, but also to connect, engage, and inspire. Whether you’re posting stories on your social media channels, in your printed magazine/newsletter, or capturing a video interview on your phone, the opportunities for storytelling are limited only by your imagination. Each story paints a vibrant community portrait, one clever and compelling post, tweet, or video at a time. So go ahead, grab that pen (or keyboard or camera), and let your creativity flow.
We’ve listed a handful of storytelling ideas that should help you begin the process of crafting meaningful stories that will resonate with your audience. Start with one story and then share it on your social channels and watch as it weaves its magic, pulling your members closer into the fold of your organization’s story.
Remember, each story you tell is a piece of the larger narrative of your community, and with every share, like, and comment, you're not just reaching members – you're engaging hearts and minds.
So, what's your first story going to be?
Topics: Member Benefits, member retention, member acquisition, member engagement, membership benefits packages, membership-organization, Membership Organizations, member loyalty, VALUE ADDED BENEFITS, membership benefits programs, member engagement ideas, Storytelling
Written by: Gary Toyn