Use Storytelling to Report Nonprofit Outcomes

Nonprofit leaders may tend to associate storytelling with marketing efforts, but creating a narrative for your organization is equally helpful in outcomes measurement for nonprofits. ESC Consultant Barry Seltser breaks down what an organization’s story should include, and how nonprofit leaders can collect the necessary information to build an effective narrative for reporting outcomes.

Whether you are building an annual report targeted to constituents or presenting the outcomes of a particular project to your nonprofit’s board, all narratives must answer the following questions:

  • What is the situation?
  • What did we do?
  • Why did we do this?
  • What happened as a result of what we did?
  • Why does it matter?

The key goal in weaving a narrative for reporting outcomes is to attribute any change or improvement to what you did. The power of storytelling itself will make a greater impact and highlight the true accomplishments of any effort fully, linking your organization’s actions to the outcomes produced.

If your nonprofit is not already practicing storytelling as a part of your outcomes measurement process, you may be at a loss as to where content for such narratives can be found. How do you unlock these stories from wherever they are hiding? According to Barry, nonprofits have a breadth of sources to tap into.

In creating a narrative to report outcomes, nonprofit leaders should ask themselves: Who are my best informants? Who knows about my organization’s ability to help achieve optimal outcomes? In addition, whoever is assigned to interviewing people should consider where and when it is appropriate to approach these “storytellers”. These individuals tasked with asking the questions should consider where targeted interviewees would be most comfortable sharing their experiences, who they would be most comfortable talking to, and how they are most likely to give you the information you need (i.e. over the phone, in person, by email, etc.). While not all story-gathering opportunities can be anticipated, nonprofits should routinely ask for storytelling content during standard procedures such as exit interviews, regular reporting cycles and training sessions.

Has your nonprofit successfully used an organizational narrative to report outcomes? Please comment with success stories, further questions and discussion on this tactic.

ESC of New England offers management consulting and capacity building services in a variety of areas including Outcomes Measurement, Marketing, Strategic Planning and more. Please contact Ulea Lago, Director of Consulting, at for more information. We offer a complimentary 2-hour assessment visit to all interested nonprofits in eastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island.