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Storytelling for impact


14 July 2021 at 6:17 pm
Mike Davis
The time has come to embrace the range of media options available to ensure your strategic plan or impact measurement resonates with your audience, writes Mike Davis, who shares some examples of organisations doing this well.


Mike Davis | 14 July 2021 at 6:17 pm


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Storytelling for impact
14 July 2021 at 6:17 pm

The time has come to embrace the range of media options available to ensure your strategic plan or impact measurement resonates with your audience, writes Mike Davis, who shares some examples of organisations doing this well.

When we talk about developing meaningful strategies and embarking on impact measurement, we often neglect the all-important step of communicating or telling the story of the impact we are creating. 

It is easy to jump right into either project without considering new and emerging approaches to engaging storytelling. By now most not for profits or social enterprises will have an “our impact” page on their website offering a range of ways to understand their impact. 

Here you will often see dashboard extracts and infographics artfully outlining some headline indicators in a visually stimulating way. You are also likely to find short-form and longer-form dedicated annual social impact reports. These pages may also be replete with beneficiary or partner stories of success and blogs about activity in a certain focus area or region. 

However, the time has come to embrace the range of media options available to ensure your strategic plan or impact measurement resonate and have a profound and lasting impact on your key audience segments. It is now essential to do things differently to ensure you are reaching your audience – wherever they are – in an inclusive, accessible and engaging way. 

Podcasting for impact

In a previous article for Pro Bono Australia, I wrote about the impact that a podcast like Humans of Purpose can have in changing beliefs, attitudes, knowledge and skills. 

Some key insights from our listener experience survey in 2019 were that 68 per cent of our podcast audience listens to Humans of Purpose to improve their thinking or mindset, and 24 per cent do so to actively consider their career path and a move to more meaningful work.

Podcasts are an excellent medium to share knowledge, skills and experience – and, importantly, outline how your organisation’s work is having a strong social and community impact. 

Lifeline Australia recently released the Holding on to Hope Podcast, in which people who have come through the darkness of suicidality share the connection that gave them hope to continue living. This series involved participants voluntarily choosing to share their personal lived experience to offer hope and inspiration to others. 

Lifeline was able to report in its “our impact” page that the podcast achieved 4,000 listens in just two weeks – a tremendous achievement. It’s currently received an average of 4.8 stars out of five and 46 positive reviews from listeners.

Each episode is supported by a participant story page including a short summary, a photo of the participant and the episode audio as well as a full transcript of the episode – ensuring great accessibility and inclusiveness. 

An approach to enhancing the impact of the podcast might have been to include some short audio snippets and quotes as well as some short video clips of the recording in action. This could have been supplemented by a multichannel integrated marketing and social media campaign.  

Philanthropy Australia has released a podcast that enables it to exercise thought leadership, educate audiences and also to illustrate its impact. The podcast is called Philanthropy Australia Podcast and is currently ranked 11th in the Australian Not For Profit category of the podcast charts. It is an engaging podcast whose recent topics include homelessness, poverty and ethical tests for our leaders. 

A key part of the success of a podcast like this is to showcase different subject matter experts across a range of themes, but also to keep the content under 40 minutes in length. This may sound trivial, but consider that research indicates that the maximum time you can engage someone before they become bored, tired or distracted is about 45 minutes. For me this reduction in attention span neatly coincides with the rising popularity of TV series (usually 30 minutes to an hour) over longer films. 

Despite its high category ranking, the podcast has just three ratings and reviews and is just 32 episodes young. An enhancement for this podcast would be to increase its audience by running an engagement campaign and asking listeners to rate and review the podcast. Some further clarity and communication on podcast episode flow, theming and structure would also improve audience engagement. Finally, it would be good to outline more explicitly through the podcast how Philanthropy Australia is creating social impact. 

Digital impact reporting

A simple but very effective transition from the conventional PDF or Word document social impact report is the approach taken by the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission. Its impact report from 2019 is accessible via this link

The page uses large and bright fonts and is entirely scrollable from top to bottom. The content also refreshes as you scroll down, so it appears like a presentation as you read it. This adds an immediacy and excitement to the reading that you just don’t get with a PDF or Word document. 

Consider the fact that busy people do not have time to read long PDF or Word documents that aren’t closely associated with delivering on their core role. By ensuring that the product is easy to read, accessible and digitally savvy, you are maximising your chances of your audience spending time engaging with your content and organisation. 

Another highly effective approach is to have a blog landing page for your impact report that easily and succinctly outlines the takeaway messages. Wotton + Kearney have done a great job at this with their Community Footprint FY2020 Report

They open with bullet points of the key highlights from the report and then provide a short video overview and a full report too. This offers users three levels of engagement depending on how much time they have available and how much detail they want to get into. 

They also take into account that some users prefer video content to lengthy reports and some just prefer bullet-point highlights.  

An enhancement on this approach might be to include a data dashboard on the landing page and to consider also including breakout boxes illustrating the pro bono division’s theory of change. A theory of change offers an additional way to understand how social impact is created through inputs, participants, activities, outputs and short- and long-term outcomes.

There are many new ways to approach communicating strategy and social impact. Now is the time to refresh your approach to ensure you are creating truly engaging content that reaches your audience segments in an accessible, inclusive and respectful manner. Failing to embrace innovative communications approaches here will result in all the hard work measuring impact being lost.

“If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it still make a sound?”  


Mike Davis  |  @mikedav84

Mike Davis is a senior strategic advisor at Spark Strategy, chief podcaster at Humans of Purpose and a board director at not for profits SIMNA Ltd and L2R Dance.

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