Do you want to showcase your organization and earn funder’s trust? Do you want to relate the transparency of your Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) in utilizing partners’ and stakeholders’ resources? Then, you must be thinking of success stories. You will discover how to write a success story that is worth sharing.
Writing a detailed success story requires approaches that would outlay how and the extent of the impact your project and interventions had or are having on beneficiaries – individuals and communities.
But the challenge is this:
- You need a baseline,
- A process that worked, and
- The current situation.
Whilst many propositions exist for writing a success story, the template you adopt will depend on the peculiarity of your project, organization, funder, and target audience.
And to assure you, crafting a success story isn’t overly complex. Understanding the key elements will provide the basis for you to craft an adaptable template for your needs.
So, in this article, I’ll extensively provide you with tips and take you through the elements you need to write a success story that assures funders of your work.
But, let’s have a brief chat on a success story.
Success Story Overview
Success stories are resourceful marketing tools for promoting your organization before stakeholders, partners, and funders. They help you relate to others how your approaches and interventions are transforming lives and impacting the society in the big view.
Basically, it is an account of how you achieved success. This account, at the very core, details the before and after situations, strategies you adopted, and the positive impacts. Aside from marketing your work and organization, they provide relevant information.
Decision-makers can read in-between the lines to ascertain the flow of activities, and thus, make decisions to improve, re-structure, or even stop an activity.
Though success stories are mostly written at the end of a project or intervention, some are, however, written at the beginning and middle points.
This post provides a balanced approach that you can adapt to write a success story that meets the peculiarity of what you do.
Now that you’ve acquainted yourself with the concept, let’s get soaked in how to write a success story.
How to Write a Success Story
So, how do you write a success story that satisfies minimum standards and guidelines?
Well, there’s no specific answer to this question. Why? For instance, Non-Governmental Organizations often have templates given to them by funders to guide how they go about the writing process. Similarly, business enterprises craft theirs based on specific factors such as the niche, context of what they did, and many others.
Nevertheless, there are specific elements to consider that should power your story irrespective of the format, and I’ll be discussing these elements right on.
Step 1: Craft an Appealing Headline
The title of your success story remains the first contact point. Viewers and readers alike will most often see this before the story. They may decide to proceed or simply bounce depending on the picture your headline paints.
Hence, it’s very important to give a close call to the title of your story and make it superfit for others to engage with from the first point of contact.
So, how do you craft the headline that keeps your intended audience engaged? In my years of writing and developing contents, I’ve often utilized 4 headline hacks that are super awesome.
Add an emotional hook:
Emotional hooks contain action and power words that paint the effect of your story. Most importantly, they take your readers through a power-packed universe where each action translates into an impact.
So, think of it this way: If a headline contains an action, someone or a group of people definitely got involved. Your headline is therefore expressing the ‘living‘ effect of your story on the beneficiaries, but concise enough to make readers feel the hook.
Below are examples of common headlines with emotional hooks:
- A change that transversed many grounds
- Livelihood Opportunity Helps 4 Children attend school
- It’s Never Enough to Help Others Grow
- Improved health access by 40% in Maigama through Advocacy
Use numbers to convey impact:
Numbers are powerful and easily convey the impact of your story. In fact, at a snapshot, headlines with numbers help you to spot the extent to which you achieved success. For instance, here’s a headline we crafted for one of our success stories.
As you can see from the image, it straightly tells how 4 children benefited from the intervention provided to their caregiver. Without thinking much, one can immediately tell the impact: building a future by helping these children attend school.
So, always think of creative ways to add numbers as part of your success story headline hacks. However, this is not to say that all your headlines must contain numbers. Just be creative!
For inspiration on headlines with numbers, see a few below:
- Livelihood opportunity helps 4 children attend school
- More than 80% access portable water in [Location]
- Community collaboration delivers life-changing support to 200 youths
Show a sense of relevance:
The number one purpose of your piece is to show success. It reveals the essence of an intervention. Then, why not help people understand the relevance of your story from the very beginning.
Consider expressing the importance of your story to others via the headline.
For instance, the livelihood opportunity success story I used earlier shows, not only the impact but the extent of the impact. You can, from the headline, understand that those children got access to education.
See a few examples to help you craft one:
- A young entrepreneur uses technology for social innovation – FHI360
- Improving development through strategic partnership
- Utilizing the power of awareness to mitigate discrimination.
Keep it concise:
Long and wordy headlines are unnecessary because a rather concise one would pass the message succinctly. Though there are times when adding a few words delivers the intended message and helps people understand the supposed content of your write-up.
While not a universal standard, try to keep your title within 10 words.
A good headline or title is simple, jargon-free, and has/conveys impact; it summarizes the story concisely and includes action verbs that bring the story to life.
2. Expound on the Situation
Baseline information usually helps people to understand an impact better. And this should often exist in your writing steps. It aids your readers to picture what it was like in the past, thus helping them understand the extent of what you did.
This requires the availability of relevant baseline information and or data. If you’ve had a functional Monitoring and Evaluation Plan from the beginning, this information should already be available. You will, however, gather pieces of information to complement the existing one.
Where it becomes difficult, is when you have no reliable baseline information. Nevertheless, you can adopt data collection techniques to gather information from the right sources. Mind you, you’ll need to squeeze this information for accuracy.
Well, once you have the needed information, you can understand how things were. What you detail should concisely address the following areas:
- Who are you talking about? Sometimes, it might be an individual or individuals, other times, a group of entities such as a community, an organization, among others.
- What was the situation? Help people understand what the situation was. There was no portable water in community A, family C could hardly feed on a square meal each day, etc.
- So, what did this situation cause? Discuss the effects! Lack of portable water led to the outbreak of waterborne disease to which 1000 children between ages 5 -10 were affected.
- Any clues to what caused the situation? This information is not only useful in showing how you creatively tackled the situation but provides insights into adopting your solution-template for related situations.
- Were there previous attempts to alleviate the situation? If yes, by who and how did it go?
Below is a screenshot of a success story’s situation section that details and provides some answers to the above questions.
Mind you, providing answers to these questions doesn’t mean you’ve to write 100 pages of this document. In fact, one feature (and notable quality) of a success story is that it must be concise. If possible within just a page.
This implies that you will have to creatively provide answers to these questions such that your readers will understand what occurred. That seems a huge task, right? Well, it isn’t! Trimming your words and sentences – removing irrelevant details and expressions – provides a succinct way of providing enormous information within few lines or sentences.
3. Describe your Strategy and Approach
So, you’re through with describing the situation from relevant angles, right? What next? It’s time to describe how you or your organization tackled the situation to achieve success. Remember that strategy integrates all efforts and approaches used to deliver the expected result(s).
Therefore, imaginatively, outline the steps involved, resources, stakeholders, and any other factor that contributed to making the story a success.
In a nutshell, your descriptions should embody the following information:
Funding & Project Brief:
Most times, interventions are funded. This could be by an individual, Implementing Partner (IP), Government, Agencies, or about any other entity. For such, it’s important to briefly introduce the funders. This helps to show how your organization has utilized funding efficiently to achieve success.
More so, the funding can equally be under a particular project. Equally, introduce the project. Discuss its goal, target groups, duration, and objectives where applicable.
Project X is a 2-year child-focused project aimed at improving access to education by vulnerable children in community Y.
The above example instantly describes what the project was – at a higher level, but explicit enough to enable readers to sum its vision.
The Approach adopted:
If you are familiar with tackling challenges, you’ll agree that sometimes, there are several ways to doing so. But one question beckons, which of the ways was most effective? Well, I’m not detailing the choice of intervention logic here. All I want you to grasps here is that readers need to know about the approach(es) you used.
This could provide clues for someone or an organization to adapt such in future projects. So, detail your approach, the steps involved, its efficiency if possible, and the rationale for the choice.
For example, we achieved a reduced rate of Gender-Based Violence (GBV) in one of our focal communities where attempts have previously been made. Our approach yielded geometric success. The screenshot below shows a summary of the approached we adopted.
With that, one can easily surmise that our approach can be adapted in community Z with peculiarity to the situation we tackled.
Especially in social and community projects, forming a referral and collaborative system remains the major strength of achieving success. It is quite unlikely to identify a successful project that had no collaborations or synergy with specific entities.
Hence, it’s noteworthy to describe your collaborative efforts and how these/this collaboration(s) impacted success.
In the previous screenshot, you saw how we collaborated with community structures to achieve the desired result. Where available, remember to chip in these collaborations.
4. Showcase the Result(s)
By now, you’ve gotten enough information to start writing a success story. The truth is this, the previous steps would be meaningless if your story fails to reveal the result or success. So, permit me to state that this is the most important part of your success story.
Yes, people have read what the situation was and how you innovatively tackled it. However, they’re yet to understand clearly what the effects of the response were. Thus, help them understand these effects.
There are a few ways to showcase the result of a success story such that those who consume it will understand the impact and its extent in just a few lines.
Let me briefly describe them:
Capture Relevant Quotes:
Quotes are great in revealing the impact you’ve had. When beneficiaries talk about how your work has helped them reach a level, it’s often more emotionally driven. In fact, you might not see the impact the way they will reveal to you.
So, it’s one of the practices you should always integrate into your story. While gathering information for the story, capture relevant quotes that add value. These quotes can be from a single source. Sometimes, from several sources. Ensure that you make the most of them.
Here are quick tips to add quotes to a success story:
- Use the original language and translate to English if need be. That will depend on your audience anyway.
- For changes to the original quotes, endeavor to indicate with square braces. This is mostly the case as you might need to structure the grammar contextually.
- Your adoption of double or single-styled quotes depends on your choice or organization.
- Mark missing words or expressions with an ellipsis (…).
For more on best practices, read this guideline from Grammarly: Quotation Marks.
Play with Real Data:
Another way of showcasing results and impacts is to dissect the available data. Okay, calm down a bit. I’m not referring to data science or deep-layer data analysis. Simple comparisons, percentages, summations, or even measures of central tendencies will do just fine.
Note, however, that the scope of your project might sometimes require in-depth data analysis to represent your success.
Either way, understand that data attract attention compared to words. This is only possible if you had baseline information in place.
Here are a few tips to help you integrate data into your success story:
- Compare previous and present situations – are there significant or relevant changes? What information can you depict from those changes?
- Use percentages to show the extent of the impact. People will easily understand that your efforts improved healthcare by 60% compared to stating that you supported 10 health facilities.
- If need be, use light-weight data presentation features such as tables, pie charts, etc.
- To provide a balance, support the given data with a brief description for accessibility and improved understanding.
- Highlight inline stats or data to enable readers to see them earlier.
Use MoV but not compulsory:
There are different types of Means of Verification (MoV), from photos, audio recordings, video, signed attendance schedules to receipts. However, in the context of this post, I will focus on one that is mostly used in writing success stories – Photos.
It’s common to hear people say “A picture is worth a thousand words!“, and that’s just what it is. Well-taken photos can give visual meanings within a few seconds. Depending on policies or guidelines that govern your project, you may include relevant photos to support your story.
Take these tips:
- Avoid adding sensitive, disrupting or offensive photos.
- Acquire signed consent of the beneficiary before usage.
- Some cases might require that you don’t use photos, even if the beneficiary gave you consent, to curtail discrimination.
- Avoid cropping, tweaking, changing the resolution of photos. Maintain the original scale and pixels.
- The photo(s) should relate excellently to the story. Irrelevant photos are a total NO!
- Use photos that are bright, attract attention, and of high resolution.
- Always refer to the guidelines provided by funders and policies of your focal area.
- Stick with .jpg, .png, .gif and .bmp image types.
5. Capture the Big Picture
By now, your success story has taken shape. Notably, stakeholders, funders, and casual readers can depict the change or transformation you’ve brought through your activities. Everyone is now abreast of strategies that can work for a given scenario.
No doubt, you’ve done great justice to your story by providing these relevant pieces of information. But there’s still one last step you can consider- The Big Picture!
What’s the big picture? See it this way:
You helped 4 children to access educational needs and take the burden off their parents/guardian. After, let’s say 5 or 10 years, what impact will this particular act of service have on the society at large. That long-term impact becomes the big picture of the success story.
The big picture is the most important fact about your intervention and how it affects other things over a long a period.
This could be what is happening already as a result of your work. So, reserve 2 – 3 sentences to provide the present and future large-scale impact of what you have done. Where this becomes important is in acquiring funds, and presenting questions for others to answer.
For instance, you helped reduce the unemployment rate by linking 20 youths to relevant skills from which they got start-up grants, right? That’s great! But the problem still lingers in the community. Your projection of what this will bring if more youths are empowered might spur funders and stakeholders. It might make them think of ways to either support you or initiate an intervention along that path.
Overall, your story has inspired others and is in the right direction!
Over to you!
I hope by now you have acquired basic if not enough, skills and information to write a success story? Even if you’re writing success stories for NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) or businesses, this guide on how to write a success story has provided excellent clues.
Now the ball is your court! How do you want to play it? Remember, a good success story offers great advantages, and you can rely on these to mobilize funds and resources for your organization.
Let me cap the salient points from this guide:
- Encourage the culture of writing success stories.
- It begins with a well-crafted headline not void of an emotional hook.
- Describe the previous situation of things or beneficiary.
- Detail the methods used to tackle the situation – notably why you used the said method.
- Let people know the change your story brought in an easy-to-understand way.
- What are your projections for what has been done?
Note: There are several other success story formats out there specific to your field and needs. It’s never a bad idea to creatively integrate features from several verifiable sources.
Lest I forgot, I promised you a free success story template. Click any of the links below to download your preferred format: