The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 34

Nonprofit Storytelling the Hollywood Way (part 3 of 3), with Boris Kievsky

In this Episode:

The power of storytelling lies in its ability to connect people and share experiences. Regardless of how great a story you tell in the middle of the forest, if no one’s there to hear it, it doesn’t make an impact.

In this third and final part of our exploration of Nonprofit Storytelling the Hollywood Way, we’re going to focus on elements of story craft that make stories more impactful, give them greater reach, and keep people coming back for more.

Listen to this Episode

[00:00:16.190] – Intro Video
Welcome to the Nonprofit Hero Factory, a weekly live video broadcast, and podcast. Where we’ll be helping nonprofit leaders and innovators create more heroes for their cause and a better word for all of us. Da-Ding!

[00:00:20.150] – Boris
Hi, everybody. Welcome back to the Nonprofit Hero Factory. Thank you for joining me once again. Unlike most episodes, this one is going to be a solo show, so you just get to hear from me today. Most of the time, you get to hear from amazing experts in all manners of nonprofit fields like fundraising, marketing, technology and, of course, storytelling, which is what I wanna focus on today.

[00:00:40.970] – Boris
This is actually Part Three of our exploration of nonprofit storytelling lessons from Hollywood and beyond. Whether you’re new to nonprofit, new to storytelling or been working with both for years, my hope is that these concepts can help you refine your strategy and spark ideas for new ways to share your important work with the people who need to hear it.

[00:01:00.110] – Boris
Now to get the full story, so to speak, go watch or listen to part one, which is Episode 22, which focused on the questions and elements you have to have in place before you even begin to tell your story, such as establishing all the different characters and voices in your story and the goals that you have for all of them because you can’t have heroes if they don’t have calls to action and goals.

[00:01:22.490] – Boris
And then Part Two, which was Episode 29, there we covered the story style, structure and layout tips. I think there were 16 or 17 of those just in there. All of the little aspects that you could use to tweak how you tell your story to keep it more engaging, captivate your audience, maintain their attention and get them to do the things that you want to do so they become heroes for your mutual cause.

[00:01:47.210] – Boris
This installment, Part Three, is the final installment where we’re gonna cover the tools and tricks of the craft that will help you polish your story, really get it ready for mass consumption. At least we hope it will be mass consumption. And then the packaging or the elements you need to get your story out to the world, get people interested in it, get them to click that link, get them to scroll down, read it, and get enraptured in enough to take the actions you want them to take.

[00:02:14.810] – Boris
The first of the two parts that we’re gonna be talking about, of course, is craft. And storytelling, a lot of people tend to think of as an art, which there are many artistic aspects to it. But there’s also the craft side of it. And that is that a great screenwriter or novelist or nonprofit writer has to know how to use the tools that can make the movie or, in your case, your story more believable, more focused, more sticky, and keep people coming back for more. And there’s a set of tools that I learned from my time in Hollywood that I want to share with you.

[00:02:50.270] – Boris
And the first one is that you’ve got to establish credibility. Now, whenever you’re telling a story, hopefully the people who are listening to you take you at face value and know that you are the expert that you are.

[00:03:03.650] – Boris
Some of them may have already used your services or donated to your cause. They’re already members of your community in one way or another. But your goal is to, of course, bring in new people all the time. And those people may not know of the work that you do, of the impact that you have, right? Or of why they should trust you really.

[00:03:26.090] – Boris
So you wanna establish why we as first time visitors or relatively new visitors should trust you with our time, our money, et cetera, our resources, really our voice.

[00:03:37.730] – Boris
So how do we do that? Well, on any given page, depending on what it is that you’re trying to share, you can have various types of social proof. And essentially, that comes down to either testimonials or logos or some sort of endorsement, third party endorsement that might even be a guide star rating that you include on the bottom of your homepage or even your URL. Your website address could have the name of the cause right there.

[00:04:06.770] – Boris
There are little quick shortcuts and signals for us to understand that you are nonprofit, that you deserve our attention, and hopefully that you know what you’re talking about. Maybe it’s numbers like, how many people you’ve already impacted, what past successes you’ve had that people can attest to. Those are all types of social proof.

[00:04:27.830] – Boris
Movies use stars on their posters, right? To establish credibility. There might be certain stars that when you see in a movie, you’re nearly automatically gonna go see because you really like their work, at least until they disappoint you, which I hope your stories never disappoint your listeners. Similarly, what does your organization, what does your story offer as social proof, as a way to establish credibility?

[00:04:52.790] – Boris
Then this is a tactic that I borrow from Shakespeare, which is, “Say it thrice” aka three times. Now, in Shakespeare’s time, any important lines that their characters have to say, in one way or another, they would say them three times. I don’t mean they repeat “here ye, hear ye, hear ye,” which of course they did. But they would actually repeat the same concept multiple times in a given speech or certainly throughout the scene in order to be sure that the audience got it.

[00:05:22.010] – Boris
Now, Shakespeare was at a couple of disadvantages to us in that he couldn’t really control the way that the audience would respond to things, including, of course, throwing tomatoes if they didn’t like a speech. He also couldn’t control whether or not they’d be noisy or rowdy. So for him, it was necessary to have characters repeat things multiple times.

[00:05:42.530] – Boris
There’s also a theory that they said it three times because the stage was a thrust. I got to do a monologue on Shakespeare—on the Shakespeare Globe stage in London, and I can attest to it. It does have audience on three sides. So people said, you’d have to turn to one side, then walk to the front, and to the other side in order to be sure that everybody heard you.

[00:06:02.810] – Boris
Today, of course, we don’t have those same challenges, but let’s think about the challenges we do have. We have a million distractions. We have people multitasking whether they want to or not. They might be watching your video or reading your story, but also getting things on their phones or their kids might be coming in. Their dog might be barking, or an alert might be coming in from one of their emails or social media apps or something, right? There’s endless distractions.

[00:06:26.570] – Boris
So while I’m not saying repeat yourself verbatim at least, do introduce a concept multiple times and define it in different ways so that people really get a chance to absorb what you’re saying throughout your story.

[00:06:39.950] – Boris
And then the next tactic I advise is to kill your darlings. This is an odd one, and it’s difficult for most writers, including myself still to this day, but especially when I was first starting to write. It essentially means that there’s often times when we will include something that we think is just so poignant, so witty, so on the nose that it’s gonna make the show, make the episode, make the—in our case, blog post or whatever video so much more salient.

[00:07:13.790] – Boris
Unfortunately, we are often too close to the text, to the subject, to understand that from an outside perspective, it may not really be as resonant. Every line, every moment in your content needs to be filled with things that are going to engage and further the character, the reader as a character in your story.

[00:07:35.810] – Boris
I remember the first play I wrote. I was working with a playwriting teacher. He was actually a great playwright and screenwriter. And I had a line in there that I just loved. I thought it was hilarious and it was witty and it was poignant, and he read it and very politely looked at me and said, “Would the character actually say this, or is this Boris trying to sound intelligent?”

[00:07:59.450] – Boris
Now, you may not have the same problem as I had at the time, but you may have certain terms. You may have certain inside language that really makes sense to you. How many times have I read mission statements or vision statements that are just full of jargon and rhetoric that sounds so refined, and it doesn’t actually make a lot of sense to someone who’s reading it for the first time.

[00:08:22.850] – Boris
So take a look, take a close look at whatever language or fascinating or witty things you may be including in your content, and think a couple of times about whether or not you should actually remove it to make it more interesting and relevant to your audience.

[00:08:42.530] – Boris
The next is to introduce spin offs. So if you follow any of the Dick Wolf TV series, for example, Chicago Fire, Chicago Med, Chicago PD, all of those launched sequentially. I’m not sure of the exact order, but they were introduced first in one show and then they would have it in another show. They would have—mention of another show before it actually launched. They would bring the characters in, establish them in that world.

[00:09:12.830] – Boris
So spin offs, in your case, might be if you’re telling one type of story and you have another piece of content or another place where you want people to follow you for more content, you can introduce it in the story that you’re currently telling, sort of as a spin off or a new series that you’re going to be sharing somewhere else down the line.

[00:09:37.050] – Boris
In that same vein, we wanna tease what’s to come. Now, in a previous episode, I talked about cliffhangers, where you come to a point and stop in the middle of your story at the most exciting climax portion of the story. And you want people to tune back in next week or in the next reel in the case of the double feature. “If you like this, you should really tune in next time because we’re going to do this and this and this.”

[00:10:05.370] – Boris
Similarly to how when I ended the first episode or the second episode of this series of Hollywood storytelling for nonprofits. I also said, “Tune in next time or be sure to check in with us for the next episode, which is coming in a few weeks.” At least, I think I said that. I hope I said that. So tease what’s to come in your own storytelling to keep your audiences coming back for more.

[00:10:29.910] – Boris
And then pick your shots. You know, in actual filmmaking, we pick our shots long before we ever even cast an actor. We actually storyboard the entire thing as best we can to see exactly what we’re gonna show in any given shot. In this case, I’m talking more about your visuals, right? What is it that you’re going to show in the context of your article or your blog—or your blog post or your video?

[00:10:58.350] – Boris
However, you’re going to share this content except, of course, in the case of podcast like this one. What are the visuals that you’re going to include to make people instantly transport into the world that you are trying to establish for them, to engage with the story in a way that pulls them in and helps them resonate with the character, feel for the characters that are going to be in it, and perhaps picture themselves as one of those characters?

[00:11:28.650] – Boris
Remember the expression, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” It may actually also be worth thousands of dollars if you’re able to help people connect with the cause, connect with the world and the problems in the world that you’re establishing that they likewise want to solve.

[00:11:46.590] – Boris
And then the last part of the craft before your story is ready to go public, is to do a private screening. Now, I’ve been fortunate to work in a couple of movies that had larger premieres, let’s just say. But even before they had that, long before they had that, they had multiple private screenings where first, just the director and the producer or even just the director and a few close friends would come in and watch and see: Is this movie working? Is there anything extra? Is there anything we could do to tweak, to tighten, to really make it more powerful and engaging at any given point?

[00:12:22.230] – Boris
So if possible, run your story by some trusted advisors. Now, maybe it’s somebody else on your team. Maybe it’s your board of directors or board of advisers that you could send out. If it’s an email, send it out to them first. Let them take a look at it and give you any feedback possible.

[00:12:39.630] – Boris
Or maybe it’s even a group of superheroes to misuse the term. But people who are so entrenched and engaged with your community that they’re happy to be the first eyes and ears for your content and let you—give you feedback if there’s anything that they think doesn’t quite work for them, and therefore audience members like them. So test and refine your content before widely distributing it.

[00:13:10.290] – Boris
Now that we’ve established who our characters are, what questions we need to answer before we even start writing our story, how a plot works and how we can apply it to our own storytelling? All of those in parts one and two. And then what are all the devices that we could use? And what are all of the different elements of craft that we could incorporate in order to—or take advantage of in order to make our story as great as we can.

[00:13:36.810] – Boris
Let’s talk about the packaging. And this is really going to the idea of how we’re going to market our story. But before you can even market it, you have to have what in marketing we call the collateral, which in movies might be the posters, the trailers, the billboards, right? All of those things are packaging or originally, of course, in the terms of DVDs, it would be the package on the DVD. What is the—What does the cover look like?

[00:14:04.890] – Boris
As much as we like to say, we don’t judge books by their covers, we really do. And we do judge movies and your own stories by the initial presentation that we’re given of it. It helps us decide whether or not we’re going to dive any further, give it any more of our attention, spend any more time to engage with your content in the first place.

[00:14:28.350] – Boris
So the first thing you wanna do, is actually give it a great visual. That visual, like we were talking about before, needs to really speak to the audience that you want to reach, and it needs to tease the story that’s going to be there. We absorb visuals 60,000 times faster than we do text.

[00:14:47.970] – Boris
So even if you think the text is the most important thing there and you’ve got great text, if there’s not a visual you’re missing out. And if the visual isn’t impactful in engaging, if it doesn’t pique my curiosity or start transporting me into the world of the story, then you’re actually losing me.

[00:15:05.070] – Boris
There are studies that show we have about 8 seconds to engage someone when they reach a piece of content. If you don’t, they’re going to hit that back button or they’re gonna tune out and move on to something else. Again, we’re all multitasking these days, and there’s no shortage of things trying to grab at our attention all the time. So you’ve got to use every resource you can.

[00:15:26.130] – Boris
Then once you have your visual picked, yes, the next most important thing is the title. The title of the movie goes a long way. The title of your article goes at least as far. Your title is the first thing people will really use to frame and contextualize your story.

[00:15:42.570] – Boris
Even if your visual is very clear, the title can direct things in a different direction or really point us into what we’re going to be talking about. And it should be in some ways exciting or informative, so that we know that again, this is a story that we want to go on with you.

[00:16:00.750] – Boris
Then, once you have your title, you want to give it a tempting tagline. In the world of movies, again, a tagline might be something like. “in space no one can hear you scream.” Which was the tagline for Aliens. In Alien, there was—the poster really just had a dark space cape, I guess you would call it. And there was something coming through it. There was something a little different there, but really just the title of the movie Alien.

[00:16:29.590] – Boris
It could have been about anything, including at that time it could have been about the show, Alf. But it clearly wasn’t. It was a suspenseful thriller and the tagline, “in space no one can hear you scream,” really made it powerful and showed what it’s going to be about.

[00:16:46.570] – Boris
Similarly, in your own work, if you could add a tagline that helps explain what the story is going to be about, that might be catchy, that might capture some interest or pique some curiosity, but also inform, maybe even strike an emotion. You want to get that oxytocin released as early as possible, but without really trying to press those buttons because people will feel if it’s artificial.

[00:17:11.290] – Boris
Anything you can do in those senses to create—to create those elements in a tagline is going to really serve you well. So it could clarify the title, but it has to build interest and pique some curiosity to get people really excited to consume the content.

[00:17:30.790] – Boris
And now that you have all those three things—all those—yeah, those three things, you want to put them together into a poster, which is going to be combining your title, your tagline, and your visual into some sort of configuration. Now, I understand we’re limited in a lot of places where we might have a template that we can’t superimpose one thing on top of another.

[00:17:53.230] – Boris
The most important thing to bring first is usually the title and the visual. There are studies that show that the title should be first, but I prefer combining one over the other any way that both can be seen quickly within the first 8 seconds. And hopefully the tagline is going to be the most powerful combination that you can make. So whether it’s a photo for your post, the thumbnail for your video or your podcast like this one, it has to work with the other elements combined to make an irresistible poster for your audience.

[00:18:24.370] – Boris
Think about if you’re driving down a highway and you see a billboard. Now in Hollywood, all the billboards pretty much—unless Apple is releasing a new product—are for a movie or a TV show that’s about to come out. This is a unique thing in the world of Los Angeles that every single billboard pretty much is about a show or a movie.

[00:18:46.210] – Boris
And its goal is as you’re driving by to capture your attention long enough to make an impression in your mind. Hopefully when you’ve seen those a few times, so the marketing agencies of the Hollywood Studios hope, you’re going to want to check out the website or find the trailer on YouTube or open the email that might be coming to you about that show.

[00:19:10.450] – Boris
If you’re subscribing to Netflix, for example, they’ll send you, you know, new things on Netflix or HBO to watch, right? So you want that poster to make an impression that’s somewhat sticky so that we are excited to consume the content. And when we see it on social media, we’re gonna want to click through to learn more. That’s your poster.

[00:19:33.190] – Boris
So those are the—those are the packaging elements, the marketing elements that you need to have for every single piece of content you have. If you think about a social media post, it is entirely a poster. You don’t have usually a lot of time and space in a social media post to give an entire article, for example.

[00:19:52.670] – Boris
But you do have the room to put an interesting title to put a visual together with it, which every piece of content you share from your website should have a visual. If not, then you could just share a photo or share something else on social media that will stop the scroll, which is a common expression now in marketing, and you want them to click through.

[00:20:12.590] – Boris
So you have to have your call to action in there as well, which in social media is often implied. It’s “go ahead and click on this poster because we’re going to take you to the website.” It’s also what that text right below your visual is going to say “here’s what the website is really about” and tease a little more content there.

[00:20:30.090] – Boris
Now you have your three different parts to this series. With the three of them, I’m hoping that we’ve given you enough elements that will help you think about how to tell your story in every manner of media so that you can capture the attention and actually activate heroes. Remember, you have to have a call to action every piece of content you have.

[00:20:53.370] – Boris
I hope you enjoyed this show. I hope if you haven’t yet, you go back and view or listen to parts one and two. See all the takeaways which we’re going to have for this one as well on our show notes at I think this is going to be Episode 34. Don’t hold me to this. I can’t remember right now, but it’ll be in the show notes and it’ll be in the links on this YouTube on any place that you discover it.

[00:21:19.110] – Boris
You can also download the full entire eBook that I’ve assembled with all of these tips and more. If you visit the website, there’s a quick little form that you can fill out there. That’s my call to action to you is, go ahead and fill out that little email space to download your own eBook and then you’re going to be on our newsletter list, which means you’re going to get notifications when we have new articles, new free programs, and new podcasts like this one which coming back next week we’ll have a guest talking about their expertise.

[00:21:52.050] – Boris
Thank you so much. Please, if you do enjoy the show, give us a rating. Give us some sort of a review on iTunes or follow us on Spotify on any of the major podcast platforms and most of the minor ones. We’re there on all of them. And please, please, please, share it with others who can benefit from content like this so that I and the guests that come on the show can reach more folks. And as we like to say, activate more heroes for their cause. Bye bye, everybody.

[00:22:42.630] – Outro Video
Thank you all for watching and listening to the Nonprofit Hero Factory, we hope this episode has given you some ideas and strategies for creating more heroes for your cause and a better world for all of us. Please be sure to subscribe to this show on YouTube, Facebook, iTunes, Spotify, or your favorite podcast platform and let us know what you think, by leaving a review.

Concepts and Takeaways:

  • Storytelling is as much craft as it is art, and there are tools of the craft that anyone can learn and use (2:19)
  • Establish credibility and trust through social proof with testimonials and endorsements, as well as seals of approval or accreditation from third parties (2:50)
  • Repeat your most important points three times, in three different ways, to make sure it sticks. (4:52)
  • Avoid language that sounds lofty or uses insider terms that may alienate people unfamiliar with your work. (6:39)
  • Use one story or medium to introduce others. When launching something new, share it organically with the people who already like your work. Give them the chance to discover new work or new other places that they can interact with you (like social media channels, newsletters, etc.). (8:42)
  • Tease future content that may be of interest to someone interested in this story, so that they are eagerly awaiting your next installment. (9:37)
  • Choose your visuals wisely to draw people deeper into the story. (10:29)
  • Test your story before you share it widely. Have trusted staff, board, or supporters review it and share with you any feedback on how to make it stronger. (11:46)
  • We do judge books by their covers and movies by their posters, so choose a great cover visual that will quickly tell people something about the world of the story and get their attention long enough to check the title. (13:36)
  • The next thing that we notice is the title, which should tell us what this story is going to be about. (15:26)
  • The tagline (often called a subheading or subtitle) should then give more clarity and context to the title, and tease the story to increase curiosity. Bonus if you can start to set the emotional stakes in there as well. (16:00)
  • Combine the title, tagline and visual into a poster that will resonate with your intended audience and make them excited to dive in or to take the next step in learning about your work. (17:30)

Action Steps: What Now?

  • Start implementing!

About this week’s guest

Boris Kievsky

Boris Kievsky

Chief Storyteller and Nerd for Good at dotOrgStrategy

Boris is an entrepreneur, recovering filmmaker, and relapsed geek. As the the Chief Storyteller and Nerd for Good at dotOrgStrategy, Boris helps nonprofits harness the power of great stories amplified through the right technology to reach the right audiences, create meaningful connections, and activate the inner hero in each of them.

Connect with Boris Kievsky