By Elizabeth Ngonzi, is an Adjunct Faculty at New York University Center for Global Affairs where she teaches Digital Storytelling, Innovation and Fundraising. She is also the Founder and CEO of Liz Ngonzi Transforms, a boutique international consulting firm that provides consulting, executive coaching, and training services that enable social sector leaders and entrepreneurs to increase their impact and reach their potential. Her clients have included Candid, Cornell University, Susan G. Komen for the Cure North Jersey Affiliate; the United Nations, and Vital Voices Global Partnerships.


Storytelling is core to how we as human beings communicate. From a very young age, it is through stories that we learn about ourselves, those around us, and the world in which we live. As we grow older, storytelling is the means by which we engage with our friends and family to create shared understanding, and eventually with our employers and workmates to establish alignment around a mission.

Nonprofits must similarly align with their internal and external stakeholders around a mission, and storytelling is just as essential to that form of engagement. Digital storytelling enables nonprofits to tell their stories across multiple media, potentially in multiple languages, and to reach unknown readers and viewers through the power of tagging and amplification.

WhatsApp represents one such medium that presents nonprofits with an outstanding opportunity to engage with stakeholders through texts, attachments, and multiple forms of conversations delivered to their mobile phones and now to their desktops. Recent data indicates that there are in excess of 1.5 billion WhatsApp users exchanging more than 60 billion messages every day and that unlike other media, it has an astounding 99% open rate and 40%+ response rate.

Storytelling Framework

Irrespective of channel or medium, the key elements to effective storytelling are the ability to convey what is unique about the nonprofit, why it is worthy of support, how the audience can benefit from supporting it and how to go about doing so. Every story should incorporate a group of common elements that will enable the audience to understand: what problem (or set of problems) the organization or project exists to solve; how the organization or project will solve that problem; the impact that the organization or project will have by doing so (i.e., the broader implications of the specific results to be delivered); and finally, what actions the organization wants the audience to take.

Ideal Digital Storytelling Ecosystem

The choice of digital channels through which to tell an organization’s story depends on the intended audience, on the channels with which members of that audience are known to engage, and on budgetary and resource constraints.  The selected channels make up part of an organization’s Digital Storytelling Ecosystem.  In the figure below, which represents an ideal ecosystem, they are the interconnected spokes that drive traffic to a central hub — typically a website — where most of the engagement takes place.  Among the noteworthy features included the ideal ecosystem are (i) the virtual events channel (reflecting the constraints newly imposed by COVID-19) and (ii) the increasingly feature-rich WhatsApp channel.

Digital Storytelling Framework

There are numerous challenges to be overcome when a nonprofit seeks to use digital channels to engage with its stakeholders, including the following:

  • Prevalence of fraud
  • Limited budget
  • Worldwide competition
  • Lack of visibility online
  • Physical distance from audience

To confront these challenges, a nonprofit should ensure that its digital storytelling adheres to four essential guideposts:

  1. Transparency speaks to a nonprofit’s ability to demonstrate its legitimacy as a good steward of donated funds by, for example, sharing its audited financial statements and other, similar information.
  2. Authenticity is the validation of the nonprofit’s work and legitimacy by a third party — what is sometimes referred to as “social proof.”  This can include written testimonials (with full names) or, even better, videotaped testimonials; articles written by respected bloggers or appearing in traditional media outlets; and even being included in a funder’s (or other respected partner’s) own published materials, such as in an annual report.
  3. Clarity refers to the nonprofit’s ability to concisely and effectively integrate the four storytelling framework elements referred to above (problem – solution – impact – ask), preferably in multiple formats such as audio, video, images, and text.
  4. Relevance speaks to a nonprofit’s understanding of what the audience is interested in learning about it, and what kind of information will successfully forge a connection with the audience.  Relevant content might include profiles of an organization’s team members, partners with whom the audience can relate, and information that is especially timely (such as, in the current environment, information demonstrating an understanding of how COVID-19 is affecting the audience).

WhatsApp

When using WhatsApp to engage with various stakeholders, nonprofits have to be mindful of incorporating the various digital storytelling elements discussed above in order to ensure a successful engagement with those stakeholders. WhatsApp is a useful tool with which to apply the elements of good storytelling. Among other things, WhatsApp can be used to help facilitate team member collaboration, which has suddenly become much more challenging now that teams are having to work virtually due to social distancing.

WhatsApp is also an excellent tool for community building with stakeholders, for crowdsourcing information and knowledge and for traditional and peer-to-peer fundraising. By obtaining a free WhatsApp for Business Account and managing it on the desktop version, a nonprofit can integrate WhatsApp into its storytelling toolbox.  Below are four examples:

1) Virtual Team Management

WhatsApp offers an appealing and efficient method of sharing documents and other materials among members of a team. Team members make a WhatsApp group, and once the group is established the members are easily reachable by a message sent directly to their mobile phones. Documents can be attached to a WhatsApp message in various forms, and photos and videos also make suitable attachments. Viewing WhatsApp attachments is actually somewhat easier than accessing the same kinds of attachments sent through email. WhatsApp recently announced that it will soon enable group video calls of up to eight people, which nonprofits can use for donor updates, presentations, and even teaching.

2) Information Hub

Driven by the rapid spread of COVID-19, organizations have been using WhatsApp to disseminate critical information through WhatsApp groups whose members can then easily share with their respective networks. One limitation has recently been imposed, however: To slow the spread of COVID-related misinformation, since mid-April 2020 one can only forward a message to five people in any chat. In any event, to develop a WhatsApp group a nonprofit may either share a short link that prospective members can click to join the group, or else obtain their permission to add them to the group.  Group members always have the option to leave whenever they choose.

3) Business Profile

In the WhatsApp Business app, a nonprofit can build a profile that includes up to 500 fundraising campaigns and product and service catalogues. These can then be seamlessly shared within WhatsApp chat messages that prospective funders and buyers can access on a Website and/or forward on WhatsApp to peers. Nonprofits can also connect with and serve donors/customers on WhatsApp as easily as on Facebook Messenger, by using tools to automate, sort, and quickly respond to messages.

4) Fundraising

Late last year Facebook unified its various payment services under the Facebook Pay umbrella, and launched Facebook Pay on both the Facebook and Messenger platforms to provide a one-payment solution for all of Facebook’s apps. Facebook Pay can be used “for fundraisers, in-game purchases, event tickets, person-to-person payments, as well as purchases from select Pages and businesses on Facebook Marketplace.”

A specific “WhatsApp Pay” feature is set to be introduced in India (home of 400 million WhatsApp users) this month, but Facebook has not yet announced where else that feature might be rolled out. Nonprofits waiting for a dedicated WhatApp payment service can still build their profiles and engage and transact with stakeholders through websites while awaiting the introduction of WhatApp Pay in their own markets.


Also by Elizabeth Ngonzi: How NGOs Worldwide Can Use Digital Storytelling to Access, Attract and Activate U.S. Donors

4 Ways to Boost Your Nonprofit’s Digital Storytelling with WhatsApp