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Digital Storytelling at the Nonprofit Technology Conference 2013

Digital Storytelling at the Nonprofit Technology Conference 2013

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It's no secret that we are advocates of digital storytelling at TechSoup. This April our 2013 Digital Storytelling Challenge offers resources to sharpen your skills and an opportunity to enter your short video or five-image slide show by April 30 to win awesome prizes

When we launched the annual challenge four years ago, nonprofits and libraries were just picking up on the power of digital stories. Now they are considered an indispensable part of your organization's marketing and fundraising strategy. Nowhere was this clearer than at the Nonprofit Technology Conference 2013 this April in snowy Minneapolis.

Sessions on digital storytelling abounded, and the verdict came in clear: video, pictures, and sound are everything. Well, maybe not everything – but without some engaging elements, yours could be just another cause in the crowd.

Read on for highlights of just a few of the many digital storytelling sessions at this year's NTC, and don't miss the video with tips from Zan McColloch-Lussier of Food Lifeline Seattle, Rob Wu of CauseVox, and Nasser Asif of See3 Communications.

A Jamboree of Tools

The Digital Storytelling Tools Meet Up led by Zan McColloch-Lussier and Debra Askanase was a veritable jamboree of tools. Crowd favorites included thinglink, which helps you create and discover rich images and bring them to life with music, video, and text; and Vine, which we covered recently on the TechSoup blog.

This helpful slide broke down some of the tools into families, making it easy to decide which tools make the most sense based on your aims:

Families of Visual Storytelling Slide from NTC Session

For static visual storytelling, some tools include Instagram, Pinterest, Flickr, and Tumblr. If you want to make your story to pop with data, try infographics and maps. Want to move your images into motion? Try YouTube, Animoto, Vimeo, Vine, or Viddy. And to tell stories by bringing together the best information out there, try your hand at curation with tools like Storify,, Kontribune, and

Sounding It Out

While conversations around digital storytelling often focus on images and video, Will Coley of Aquifer Media reminded us that sound is essential in his session What Public Radio Can Teach Nonprofits about Effective Storytelling.

For one thing, microphones can be a lot less intimidating to a subject than a camera, allowing you to capture that intimate nugget you might miss with video. Audio also sparks listeners' imaginations, engaging them in creating visuals in their own heads. And with half of Americans getting their news from the radio (according to latest Pew findings), audio gives you a chance to meet folks where they are.

Will's full presentation is available online, as is the Storify recap of the tweets from the session, a standing-room-only favorite.

Nuts and Bolts

For anyone wanting to learn the basics and beyond of creating a cause-driven video, See3's Danny Albert presented a solid how-to session with everything you need to know.

Danny started with why video matters (4 billion hours spent on YouTube each month!) and covered every stage of production from finding your story to distribution. The session was packed with smart advice, but some top tips included keeping your video to one message (resist the temptation to fit too much in!), aiming at a specific audience, and including a clear call to action.

Picking a story framework helps viewers connect to your story. Some common frameworks include the origin story and the hero's journey.

Read all the notes from Danny's session to learn more about how long a video should be, what kind of equipment to use, how to get an ace edit, how to budget for your video, and more.

Go for the Gut

A standout session by Network for Good's Katya Andresen and See3's Allan Burstyn explored the role of behavioral science in encouraging repeat actions when creating content. While not focused on digital storytelling specifically, the role of good stories to grip an audience and compel them to action featured prominently. Emotions, not logic, motivate people. Effective stories tap into emotions to inspire action. And brain scans now show that when you tell a story that taps into your audience's emotions, their brains actually reflect your own.

Sounding a little science fiction? Read the full notes from the session and check out Katya's blog, where she writes all about her fascinating research.

So how do you take the dry logic of statistics and translate them into an emotional hook? Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota created an interactive infographic to show donors the impact of their giving.

Were you at 13 NTC this year, or following along from home? Let us know in the comments what your favorite digital storytelling tips were.

Michael DeLong | Online Community Manager

  • I've looked into the Flickr and am in the process of getting it for our photo storage use.  As a result of participating in Digital Storytelling Challenge and learning about storage, we will be in a much better position to maintain our valuable story in pictures.  In the near future, we will get a video camera to video record more of our activities.

    Thank you for sharing this super important information for non-profits.

  • Hi Michael, thank you for compiling together all these aspects of digital storytelling together. It's really these three key pieces: what tools to use, how to use them, and how to craft your story; that taken together can really make a compelling story shine. AND, I love that the digital storytelling has continued on from its early origins.