14 tips to help you unearth your nonprofit’s stories

14 tips to help you unearth your nonprofit’s stories

Do you have a hard time finding your organization’s stories? A couple of weeks ago, I put out a call for story-finding tips, and today I’m following up with the responses I received. What I learned: communicators who successfully unearth their nonprofit’s stories employ clarity, creativity and strong communication. Once you have read their submissions, make sure to scroll down for a list of 14 actionable takeaways that I distilled from their ideas. Thank you, Katherine, Blair, Fiona, Anthony and Yasmine!

How five nonprofit communicators find their organization’s stories

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Katherine Moffat, Marketing and Development Officer, Carnegie Gallery

“When I began work at the Carnegie Gallery last fall, I noticed that the quarterly newsletter didn’t have storytelling content. It was mainly ads. So I introduced a Q&A feature called 10Q to bring our readership the stories of how our Artist Members create, and what inspires them. My subjects are excited to learn that if they answer the questionnaire, readers will hear their voices (mostly unfiltered). In return, I offer them online promotion and e-blast recognition. To generate volunteer stories, I speak with them directly, raising general questions about why they decided to volunteer with us and what they get out of their service. I add some context around their thoughts for the piece. I don’t have to do much writing, just varying degrees of editing depending on the skill of the writer. My advice is, you don’t always need to take the entire writing job on yourself. Your subject can help.”

Blair Knoedler, Administrative Assistant, Alberni Valley Hospice Society

“We were looking for more content for our FB page. Because we run a residential hospice, we have a physical location where our services are offered every day, with staff who know to look for ‘Facebook-able moments.’ Maybe it’s a client’s birthday lunch or a donation of items for the house – even a couple of weddings! Usually, they just ask the donor/client if they can take a picture for FB and if they get permission, they email the story and photo (from their cell phone – no fancy cameras) to our Admin Assist (me). From there, not only do we post to FB, but special stories make it into our quarterly newsletter. Mostly it’s about seizing a photo op when it happens organically and being direct in asking for permission to take a photo and share it (without making it a big deal). If they say no, it’s no big deal too.”

Fiona MacAulay, Marketing and Communications Manager, Spinal Cord Injury Ontario

“Frontline staff are the most essential element of finding your organization’s best stories. They are there, in the moment and live your services with your clients every day. It’s so important to keep the channels of communication wide open with these colleagues, whether that’s hosting a monthly conference call or popping down to their office for a cup of tea and a chat. At a recent all-staff meeting, I presented a brief outline of the important role storytelling plays in helping us to work towards our strategic goals. We looked at story placement and reflected on audience diversity and reach. It really helped people understand and ever since I’ve been overwhelmed with story submissions.”

Anthony Naglieri, Sr. Director of Communications, Cultural Vistas

“We run an annual photo contest that, in addition to building out our photo assets, fuels our pursuit of stories. We receive nearly 1,000 photos annually and each photo has a corresponding caption. The contest’s theme helps to illustrate a key outcome of our nonprofit’s work: transformative international learning experiences. Here is a link to our contest’s mini-site. http://transformedbytravel.com/

Yasmine Abu-Ayyash, Communications Coordinator, TechSoup Canada

“Attending events where members are present has been my best way of finding stories about our nonprofit and how it has helped members. In our case, it would be conferences (attending as a participant as well as tabling), where we can make the face to face connection with our members. We ask them what works, and what we can do better. Asking what your organization can do better for them will help break the ice and get them to share a genuine story about their interaction and/or relationship with your organization. Another strategy to finding stories is to ask employees at weekly team meetings to share a story (for example, it could be an experience in a service they have provided). An older member in the organization has occasionally shared a historical precedent or similar story about the organization, showing us how much of our work has changed or stayed the same.”

14 actionable story-finding takeaways

Since each of our contributors offered multiple tips and ideas, I was able to tease out 14 actionable takeaways:

  1. Be clear about how and when you’ll be using the stories.
  2. Create a space for storytelling that people can get excited about (see Katherine’s “10Q” above).
  3. Offer individuals profile, promotion or recognition where it makes sense to do so.
  4. Have in-person conversations with the people you’d like to feature: creating comfort and a starting point.
  5. Use one primary channel to begin and to get people on board (see Blair’s use of Facebook above).
  6. Enlist colleagues to be on the constant lookout for stories, empowering them to seize the opportunities for capturing stories and story leads.
  7. Starting with photos, look for leads and develop more in-depth stories from there.
  8. Ensure ongoing communication with frontline staff, since they know the stories.
  9. Bring your request for stories to meetings and conference calls.
  10. Have ongoing, informal check-ins with peers who have direct connections with the people you might feature.
  11. Crowdsource stories via contests (see Anthony’s use of a photo contest above).
  12. Work with strategically-alined themes – they help people to see how their stories fit in with what you’re trying to achieve through storytelling.
  13. Attend live events; they provide opportunities to make face-to-face connections you might not always have as a communicator.
  14. Ask for feedback about people’s experiences with your organization to break the ice and unearth anecdotes.
How five nonprofit communicators find their organization’s stories #NPMC Click To Tweet

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