Meaning of a Success Story – The Definitive Guide

Project managers, individuals, businesses, entrepreneurs, and organizations are familiar with success stories. They’re, however, viewed and interpreted in different ways relative to scenarios and fields. Nevertheless, they collectively represent the same concept.

A success story ignites the passion to explore processes, implement activities, and search places for more success. Such is the strength and drive it carries. Marketers, promoters, funders, and Implementing Partners all understand the importance of these stories.

Hence, they create and strategically influence success stories. Project managers, especially, facilitate the development of success stories in organizations to project the organization before funders and investors.
And there is even more to a success story than the above.

In this post, I’ll take you through what a success story is, why you need one, and how to influence it for your business, charity project, or business efforts.

What is a Success Story?

A success story is a narration that demonstrates how an action, intervention, or process triggered an impact to change the situation of things for good. This narration can be in texts, video, audio, or even infographics [images]. But one that helps you understand how a process brought the desired change to someone, a community, business or family.

According to a guide by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

…a success story shows movement in your program’s progress over time, its value and impact.

It clearly expresses the path of success your program takes, and in most cases, the extent of such success. The extent of success is sometimes measured by the impact your project, activity or initiative had on the beneficiaries.
To make this easier, let’s explore the words involved: “Success” and “Story“.

You might like to read: How to Write a Success story in 5 Steps

What is Success?

What is success in simple words? You might be asking the question also. As expressed by Henneke, success could mean “Another step up the career ladder. A salary increase. More people reporting to me. A place in the board”.

More so, it could refer to a family being able to pay fees. A child looking healthier. A caregiver having a stable income source. An organization accessing more funding, or a community having access to potable water.
Individuals could define what success is as related to them. For instance, I might see success as having to work fewer hours a day, or achieving a goal in lesser time. A sportsperson might see success as the number of medals won.

In the same vein, a student might define success as having a better understanding of a particular concept. Or maybe performing well in examinations.

They all reflect and interpret success in their unique ways.

Thus, the meaning of success and how we interpret it depends on environments, goals, individuals, and fields. Overall, success refers to a leap to a higher status. It is a change from a previous situation to a better one. An accomplishment of a goal, or simply stopping an action or habit.

Next, let’s look a bit at the second term, a “Story“.

What is a Story?

A story is an account of an event, situation, one’s experience or an occurrence. This account details what the storyteller saw, felt, and or paraphrased from an event. And this can be true or fictional.
According to Wikipedia, a story is:

… an account of series of related events, experiences, or the like, whether true … or fictitious.

This account or narrative can be expressed through writing, speech, body language, music, performance, images, videos, and other forms of communications. Stories can also be short or long enough to put you on a virtual adventure.

Irrespective of the format and medium used, a story tells:

  • What happened,
  • When it happened,
  • Who was involved,
  • Where it happened, and
  • How it happened

Now, that we are familiar with the meanings of success and a story, let’s revisit the concept of a success story.
I’m capping it with this:

A success story is an account of how what was done led to a change in situation, position, or status.

Why are Success Stories Important?

The infographics below summarizes why success stories are important:
Importance of success stroies
Success stories are one of many documents that help you market what you do or your organization. In short, good success stories easily attract sales, funding, or investments.

For Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), they help you to show that you have spent funds properly, and have achieved a level of acceptance from the funds you received. Potential funders seek such stories that will show credibility, transparency, and accountability.

A success story is important because of the following:

1. Shows Accountability and Credibility

Funders desire to see how you spend their money. They want to know whether you’ve properly used the funds according to specifications and details. And that the intended beneficiaries accessed planned services and interventions.

A success story will help you reveal the credibility of your organization since it narrates what impact you are making in the lives of people and communities at large. And most importantly, it shows what steps you took to achieve success.

Looking in-between the lines, one can, at a high-level view, depict how credible and transparent your work is in regards to funds you receive from partners and donors.


2. Provides Answers to Inquiries

The public is often inquisitive about what you do, what goes on, your scope, and limits, among other things. While a few will go the length to put a call through, send an email, chat you, or use available contact medium, the majority will do otherwise.

These majority will most likely visit your website, social media pages,  and other online resources you offer to read and stream your contents. From your contents, they might find answers to their questions and inquiries.
Success stories, just like learning papers, lessons learnt, technical documents, among others, provide clues and tips that help inquirers know your organization better.


3. Creates Awareness and Educates People

In addition to providing clues to public inquiries, good success stories inform and educate people about your work and the organization. Think of it this way, when someone digests your success story, he/she gets to understand your strategies, focus, vision, and processes.

It equally educates and provides indicators for decision making. Decision-makers, project managers, Program Directors, and top-level decision-makers would analyze the methods adopted in achieving success. This would, in turn, help them to make key decisions that impact the direction of your project or organization.

Similarly, it provides the public, possible funders, stakeholders, and partners details on how you utilize resources and structures to achieve goals.


4. Resource Mobilization

Resource mobilization is a must for the sustainability of charity organizations and delivering services to target populations. Mobilizing resources involves excellent planning, quality documentation, and strategic implementation. one such document for mobilizing resources is a success story.

As noted by the CDC:

You are essentially “selling” your program when you seek new partners, stakeholders, funders, and participants for your program.

It helps you to sell out your work and possibly attract funders, stakeholders and partners.


5. Shows Progress

Success stories also show the progress you make in a project, program or business. It reveals what level you attain. Whether you’re at a pace that relates to the project or one that needs review. Either way, a success story shows the progress curve of your organization and how steep or steady you are achieving success.

A detailed one will provide statistics or numbers, timelines, other metrics that improve progress measurement. Measuring and evaluating progress is an aspect that helps your organization to stay on course, trim ineffective approaches, re-align to expected pathways, and make key decisions.


What is a Good Success Story?

There are several kinds of success stories out there. But not all of them are really good. Why? Because, at the very basic, there are qualities that a success story must contain or express. While these qualities are not defined by standards, a careful look at them reveals the Knitty-gritty of narrations that those who consume them would love to see.

So, a good success story is one that embodies qualities expected of it by readers or users of the story. These qualities are collectively described below.

A good success story is one that is:

1. Clear and easy to understand

A success story must be written in a simple and clear language that makes it easier for people to understand. Avoiding complex sentences and unnecessary expressions improve understanding of the story. When people are unable to grasp the meaning of a story, they will give different meanings and interpretations to it.

So, it must be written with the audience in mind. It’s common to discover that your audience is not quite acquainted with your field. Hence, your narration must be such that they can understand and interpret it – to a large extent – as you intended.


2. Free of jargons and irrelevant words

Jargons are technical words that a layman might not be able to comprehend. You can find such terms in technical documents and field-related writeups. However, success stories needn’t contain such words as clarity is important.

Nevertheless, when it becomes impossible to avoid them, one must clearly explain or define such terms.
Similarly, no need for words that do not add any value to the success story. Why take the time of your audience by increasing the length of a success story with irrelevant words that aren’t needed in the first place.

This is not the customary folktale you listen to under the shades of a tree and told by a grandparent. Hence, It should be direct and “hits the nail on the head”. Therefore, jargons are not welcomed.


4. Concise

Make it short and meaningful. At most, a one-page success story should not exceed 500 words, except where it is necessary to extend beyond that. Sometimes, however,  you might need to go beyond one page. The fact is that nobody will want to spend too much time reading the story.

Therefore, Make it as concise as possible. Keep your sentences focused on communicating the intended message and in as much less time as possible. The key reason is that most time, those who access your success story – probably funders, partners, and stakeholders – might have other success stories to read.
Thus, brevity is one quality a good success story must integrate.


5. Void of Acronyms

Acronyms are good when trying to shorten words and increase speed, but they can also be misleading. The acronyms of a particular project might differ from another. For example, the acronym IT could be interpreted differently in different fields as shown below:

  • Information Technology – Computer Science
  • Industrial Training – Education
  • Index Tracking – Public Health


Using such an acronym could mislead those who do not belong to the author’s field.
Hence, as much as possible, acronyms should be avoided. Whilst not recommended, acronyms should be followed by the meanings in the first use case.


Types of Success Stories

Success stories are mostly classified into types based on the phases of a project or program. This can be at the beginning, middle, or end of the project. Same applies with a business for a product, a division, or sector.
Below, I’ve described the types of success stories you will mostly find in development sectors.
Types of success stories

1. Upstream Success story

During project implementation or an intervention, success stories can surface at any stage. The upstream type is one that you capture at the start of a project. During this stage of the project, you’re setting up channels, conducting assessments, probably collecting data, and repurposing a few other things.

In most cases, you are providing services and making a few interventions already. These can sometimes lead to changes and leaps to better statuses of your beneficiaries or those who use your services.

When such occurs, a success story is set and at the beginning of your project. Having such a story at the beginning of intervention usually falls under the upstream success story type.


2. Midstream Success Story

I know you’ve guessed what the midstream success story is already. Yes, it just as you think. A story you capture while in the middle stage of your project implementation. By this stage, you have implemented several activities and provided numerous services to your target population.

These stories most express the progress your intervention has made, where you are at in the project document, the nature of your implementation curve, among other metrics. Do not confuse this with a progress report which dives deep into the status of your project.

Rather, see midstream success stories like those you capture during implementation but that can be inferred to ascertain the stage you have reached in your project.


3. Downstream Success story

And finally, there is a downstream success story. At this stage, you probably have done a lot, and have impacted lives across several focal areas of your project. Now, you desire to express the changes you have made in the lives of the beneficiaries.

Your downstream type of success story will convey how things were, what was done, the results of what was done, and how the steps you took brought about a change and transformation. It reveals the specific impacts of your services and interventions to the intended population and individuals.


How you can Influence a Success Story

There’s no magic or leeway to achieving success. It involves hard work, effective planning, excellent forecasting, managerial capabilities, and almost flawless implementation. However, there are a few ways you can influence what becomes a success.

Note again that projects require successes to deliver value for money. Hence, it is most pertinent to work towards achieving success.

You can influence success stories in the following ways:

  • Have clearly defined goals and paths towards what you want to achieve.
  • Break the goals into pseudo-activities using a work plan.
  • Conduct quality and comprehensive baseline assessment(s) of your potential beneficiaries
  • Provide need-based services to targeted individuals
  • Capture, track, and evaluate changes.
  • Engage beneficiaries to understand how your services and interventions have made them better at whatever you feel is their success.


Success stories are great tools for assuring funders, partners, stakeholders and investors of the credibility and accountability of your organization, and the quality of your services and interventions.

More so, a good success story goes further to help you and authorities make key decisions on the path an approach or strategy should take to ensure expected results. It boosts resource mobilization and helps to clear public doubts about your organization and services.

If you haven’t considered having them in your “sales” plan, it’s never too late to integrate them. A good content development plan will help you collect and develop excellent success stories for your needs.
You can find examples of success stories from our archives.

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