How Impact Businesses Use Storytelling to Build Movements

An impact business or social enterprise is an entity that works to solve a social problem through humanitarian or economic intervention, and usually sustains itself by raising funds or by generating profit.

It focuses on improving the status quo of specific disadvantaged sections of society by providing them sustainable livelihood opportunities, improving their access to basic facilities -- like education, health, energy -- or assisting with local crises.

So what makes a dream like this work?

More often than not, it's the burning desire of an organization's supporters to make a difference. Thus, social brands represent the human stories of fights, hopes, and triumphs. These stories form the pillars of the company's narrative.

Types of Social Good Brands

So What's The Story?

That storytelling is the most effective way to convey a brand message is now a well-accepted concept: when told well, they move audiences in ways that facts and figures cannot. Want an example? Here's Scott Harrison of charity: water with the crispest message of his impact company's goals.

Catchy? Data backs his approach. Studies have shown that stories that are supported by visuals lead to increased comprehension and recall. Stories move viewers in a way that facts and figures cannot. 

People can be motivated to be a part of a impact business brand as customers, investors, donors or volunteers by showing them a positive picture of the outcome of its efforts. Imagery that shows happy emotions, feelings of liberation, and satisfaction of achieving something stimulates us. Visual stories create instant human connection and transport the viewer to a world the brand wants them to experience; the viewer gets a taste of a brand’s daily effort, a slice of the struggle involved and the triumph of goodness.

Today, digital media is the best way of having a meaningful conversation with one’s target audience. While this is true, it has also led to a blast of content thus making consumers highly choosy while responding to any traditional brand communication. Impact businesses have a great potential to cut through this clutter and attract and retain motivated fans by harnessing the power of visual storytelling.

Some of the most compelling visual stories are:

Real– Imagery that shows real people, real situations and natural environment not only connect with the users better but also build trust faster

Positive– Visuals that showcase hope, smiles and triumph over unfavorable circumstances invoke a positive thought and a desire to do something good among the viewers.

Meaningful– Stories that are relevant to the mission of the social enterprise, consistent with the impact that it seeks to bring about and focused on conveying the truth build credibility among viewers

Most often, a Visual story intertwines six different dimensions that make an impact business. I call them the 6Ps and they help build up the narrative.

Person: The mission of a social enterprise is a reflection of the personal journey of the entrepreneur from an idea to a sustainable solution with a goal to address a social problem. Take social entrepreneur Arushi Aggarwal for example. She applies principles of design and her love for handcrafted products to provide sustainable livelihood to women form lower socio-economic strata.

People: Communities that get positively impacted by a social venture are replete with stories of people overcoming their circumstances to embrace a positive change. The story of providing safe access to drinking water for women in Namayingo District so that they don’t have to walk miles under the fear of being attacked by anyone by charity: water, a global non-profit organization, along with their local partner organization in Uganda, GOAL, is a heart-warming one.

Product/Service: The product or service is the embodiment of the mission of a social enterprise and thus their primary vehicle of social change. At Tanapalli, 140 kms from Chennai, social entrepreneurs Piyush and Koushik have developed & deployed ‘Gau Gas’, a new age, innovative and low cost Biogas system. By using the waste from cattle farms, the duo from SustainEarth aim to deliver ‘Clean, Affordable & Reliable’ cooking fuel to millions of rural communities in India thus making them independent and self-sufficient in their energy needs.

Process: How a product is made or a service delivered to the beneficiaries at bottom-of-the-pyramid forms an important element of a social good brand story. It may relate to sustainability of the making process or use of innovative technology. Studio One Eighty Nine prides itself in creating of authentic apparels that are a product of local and indigenous art forms like Hand-Batiking, Hand-Painting, Bogoloanfini and many more made by traditionally skilled artisans from Africa and Asia.

Place: The region or location and its locales where the target communities are active provide a unique perspective to a story. Urbanologist, Megha Gupta through her e-commerce venture provides livelihood for artisans from Mumbai’s biggest informal special economic zone, Dharavi in Mumbai.

Power of Vision: The vision an entrepreneur has for his social venture accords a compelling punch to the story. “My vision is to have a center of learning outside the city where all of us can come together, stay and create some beautiful architecture using locally available natural materials or other alternative materials” says Areen Attari, Bio-Architect and Partner at Put Your Hands Together -- a team of architects who work with locally available natural materials with an aim towards community-oriented architecture.

Impact businesses' stories can be multi-thematic. They can be about values & ethics of the enterprise or the founder’s life or the impact created by the enterprise or awareness on matters that can positively change the way we think and many more.  The ultimate objective of brand stories is to engage their patrons through visual media so as to make them donate to a project or buy a social-good product or volunteer for a cause.

Here are some well-known impact businesses that use visual storytelling beautifully to achieve their objectives:

charity: water

charity: water is a global non-profit organization, working towards providing rural communities in remote parts of Africa, Asia, Central and South America with their first access to clean water. With visuals from renowned humanitarian photographer, Esther Havens, backed with strong narratives, charity:water has successfully harnessed visual storytelling for various projects like Pipeline and Who is At Your Table. The stories are majorly published and promoted on popular visual platform, Instagram. With this, they proudly boast of 0 advertising spend and millions of loyal followers on their profile.

United Way of King County(UWKG)

Another non-profit based in Washington, US, UWKG does an outstanding job at showcasing their cause and campaigns like November: Homelessness Awareness Month and Giving Tuesday by posting their employees and volunteers’ pictures at work along with the beneficiaries. Primarily promoting on Facebook, not only is this style of storytelling down to earth and personal, but also engaging. United Way also asks a question back to its community members to spark engagement on their Facebook page. is a youth organization working to bring about a social change in the society around them. With campaigns like, (Not) Stuck in Traffick, 13 Gallon Challenge, DoSomething uses videos, stills adept with fun, quirky and youthful flavor where volunteers talk about what they do, why they do and why people like you and me should do it too! They make “doing social good” look as smart and simple as it could be with campaigns, challenges or even a small good deed.  Their Facebook page and Instagram channel boast of more than 1.9M followers.

Liberty in North Korea

This is a non-profit based in the USA which works towards rehabilitating citizens from North Korea and helping them live a normal life. LINK has used emails and videos to convey the stories of all the people they have rescued and rehabilitated. As emails and videos are a great way to capture readers’ interest and elicit engagement, LINK conveys real stories buy building a narrative around the central character with lots of REAL visuals to sustain the reader’s attention. Their YouTube channel has over 5.3k subscribers and around 79k followers on their Facebook page.

Krochet Kids Intl.

Krochet Kids Intl. is an innovative social brand, standing every bit by their mission to empower people to rise above poverty. Through their visual stories adept with REAL visuals, KK conveys a unique story of every lady (from USA, PERU and Uganda) who has knit their woolens. Using  various visual campaigns like Meet the ladies and #knowwhomadeit promoted over Facebook (64.4k Likes), Instagram (54.5k followers) and Twitter (14.6k followers), KK has earned itself thousands of fans from across the globe.

Motivating people to work towards a common goal requires, painting an inspiring yet thread bare account of the reality, and the vision towards a promising future along with the challenges being faced. Real, untouched, non-fabricated yet artful visuals of positively impacted communities can create sustained interest and participation in the cause of a social good brand.It suffices to conclude that the gamut of stories that can be told is virtually limitless. All impact businesses need is a little imagination.