Transformative Stories: A Framework for Crafting Stories for Social Impact Organizations

Melissa G. Bublitz, Jennifer Edson Escalas, Laura A. Peracchio, Pia Furchheim, Stacy Landreth Grau, Anne Hamby, Mark J. Kay, Mark R. Mulder, and Andrea Scott
Article Snapshot
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Key Takeaways

​Communicating stories with impact enhances the likelihood of success in engaging an audience, motivating behavior change, and transforming individuals and society.

This framework for SIO (NPOs and social benefit entities) story construction promotes authentic communication of pressing intersectional social problems and seeks to move people to action (e.g., giving, volunteering, and engaging in desired behavioral outcomes).

Good stories feature characters the audience cares about. SIOs (NPOs and social benefit entities) accomplish character development by providing details that make characters realistic and concrete. Good characterization gives the audience a strong sense of characters’ personality and complexities.

​Article Snapshots: Executive Summaries from the Journal of Public Policy & Marketing​

Storytelling is a powerful marketing tool. This paper outlines how Social Impact Organizations (SIOs), such as nonprofit organizations (NPOs) and social benefit entities, can assemble and craft authentic and effective stories that convey an impact, engage audiences, and call those audiences to action.



Research

This paper provides a framework to guide the construction of transformative stories by SIOs (including NPOs and social benefit entities). This framework is built from an integration of the academic literature on narratives and narrative construction. Combining the foundational characteristics of a good story (characters and plot) as well as effective storytelling practices (a hook to capture audience attention and a central message or theme that connects to the mission), organizations may be better equipped to engage their audiences.

Method

We worked directly with NPOs and other SIOs to understand how they engage audiences with their marketing communications and outreach efforts. Storytelling is part science (essential ingredients of a story) and part art-form (assembling those ingredients to craft a compelling and engaging narrative). We discovered that sometimes SIOs write program descriptions or testimonials that they label as stories but are often missing some essential elements of a story.

 
Notes: Even a compelling individual story may fail to convey a clear message about the nonprofit or social benefit organization to its audience. This figure demonstrates how each story should be crafted to reach an audience and accomplish a goal while reinforcing the SIO’s mission-focused metanarrative.
Findings

This framework offers a methodology to guide NPOs and other SIOs as they craft authentic and compelling stories. An SIO begins by crafting a metanarrative—a story about who the SIO is and why it exists—which becomes the overarching umbrella and point of connection for each individual SIO story. Guided by its “master storyteller,” the SIO identifies and constructs individual stories that connect to and are consistent with its mission-focused metanarrative. All of these stories are banked and preserved in a story portfolio to help advance organizational goals.


Implications

While some NPOs and SIOs struggle to help audiences understand the complex problems they address or the value of their programs, others make the mistake of assuming that their audience already understands the problem and believes it is an important concern. Still other organizations tell interesting stories but not in a way that advances their mission and objectives. Effective stories explain the problems that motivate the organization to engage in actions, include a call to action, and highlight the SIO’s achievements to demonstrate its value to the community.


Questions for the Classroom

  • One challenge SIOs (NPOs and social benefit entities) face is deciding which stories to tell. How can SIOs tell stories that do not have a happy ending? How do SIOs construct effective stories on difficult or taboo topics such as rape, racism, or domestic violence?

  • Does the need to protect privacy and confidentiality of some populations create additional challenges to perceptions of story authenticity?

  • How do organizations balance the need for story variability to maintain audience interest over time with the desire to replicate story “formulas” that work well to accomplish specific objectives?


Article Citation

Melissa G. Bublitz, Jennifer Edson Escalas, Laura A. Peracchio, Pia Furchheim, Stacy Landreth Grau, Anne Hamby, Mark J. Kay, Mark R. Mulder, and Andrea Scott (2016), “Transformative Stories: A Framework for Crafting Stories for Social Impact Organizations,” Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, 35 (2), 237-248.

doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1509/jppm.15.133​


Melissa G. Bublitz is Assistant Professor of Marketing, University of Wisconsin–Oshkosh (e-mail: bublitzm@uwosh.edu).

Jennifer Edson Escalas is Associate Professor of Marketing, Vanderbilt University (e-mail: jennifer.escalas@owen.vanderbilt.edu).

Laura A. Peracchio is Professor of Marketing, University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee (e-mail: lperacch@uwm.edu).

Pia Furchheim is Junior Lecturer in Marketing, University of Lausanne (e-mail: pia.furchheim@unil.ch).

Stacy Landreth Grau is Professor of Marketing Practice, Texas Christian University (e-mail: s.grau@tcu.edu).

Anne Hamby is Assistant Professor of Marketing and International Business, Hofstra University (e-mail: anne.m.hamby@hofstra.edu).

Mark J. Kay is Associate Professor of Marketing, Montclair State University (e-mail: kaym@mail.montclair.edu).

Mark R. Mulder is Assistant Professor of Marketing, Pacific Lutheran University (e-mail: muldermr@plu.edu).

Andrea Scott is Assistant Professor of Marketing, Pepperdine University (e-mail: ascott@pepperdine.edu).


Author Bio:

 
Melissa G. Bublitz, Jennifer Edson Escalas, Laura A. Peracchio, Pia Furchheim, Stacy Landreth Grau, Anne Hamby, Mark J. Kay, Mark R. Mulder, and Andrea Scott
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