All Staff And Volunteers Must Tell Your Story

July 14, 2016       The NonProfit Times      

Work done by staff members and volunteers at all nonprofits impacts the world and creates change. It’s the stories of that change that inspire others to get involved and support the organization’s mission.

The challenge, however, is finding and collecting those stories, and then being able to share them well. Organizational silos can create barriers to effective information sharing, but even organizations with seemingly integrated structures don’t always effectively use internal communication systems.

During a session titled “Creating A Culture of Storytelling” at the 2016 Bridge to Integrating Marketing Conference in National Harbor, Md., Heather McGinness, senior consultant for Meyer Partners, LLC, offered several ideas for overcoming internal barriers to identifying and telling compelling stories.

Even at nonprofits where program information is shared across departments, there are still potential pitfalls when communicating with external audiences, such as relying on reports and statistics. While data might help in evaluating programs, it doesn’t speak to the heart of a donor the way a story gets it done.

“Program staff often take for granted the stories they know because, for them, that’s just part of their daily work,” said McGinness. “Finding easy ways for them to pass on those stories and letting them know how valuable they are — whether that’s through reporting back on response or connecting them directly with donors — can transform communications, internally and externally. “

McGinness and co-presenter, Mark Hofman, executive director of LCMS Mission Advancement, The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, discussed how his organization uses storytelling.

“Simply sitting down with colleagues in the program department is a great start,” McGinness said. “Build relationships with colleagues just as you would with donors. It doesn’t matter how big or small your organization is; these strategies can be scaled up or down to fit anywhere.” Other ideas included:

* Talk with program staff on a regular basis;
* Visualize “storyboard moments” to ensure emotion is expressed well;
* Listen to donors about what inspires them;
* Develop a story “bank;” and,
* Keep a “performer story” library.

Once systems are established for collecting stories, staff can be equipped with information they need to inspire constituents’ support. Most importantly, managers should keep in mind that, in all their stories, donors should be the hero, as their gifts make possible the delivery of mission.