The benefits of planning stories for your nonprofit organization well in advance

Feb 27, 2020

What does your storytelling plan look like? Is it documented – perhaps something you share with your colleagues? Is it in your head?

Do you have a storytelling plan?

If you’re like many nonprofit communicators, you have no shortage of stories to tell. So it might feel easier to tackle storytelling on an ad hoc basis, drawing from your well of story ideas as needed. But if this is your approach, you might be missing out on the benefits that come with planning your stories ahead of time.

In this post, I’m sharing some of the reasons you should take the long view when it comes to storytelling.

6 benefits of planning stories for your nonprofit organization well in advance #NPMC Click To Tweet

Here are six reasons to create a storytelling plan for your nonprofit organization

You will tell the right stories.

Have you been telling “feel good” stories with no clear purpose or call to action?

With a long-term plan, you’ll give yourself time to ensure that your stories are strategically aligned. As you form your plan, you can decide which communications objectives and strategic goals your stories will support.

A few years ago, I connected with a client who was very enthusiastic about storytelling and was very good at unearthing story ideas. But her story ideas lacked clear key messages and calls to action. Of course, I helped her to align each story with strategic goals and communications objectives, but this type of planning and thinking should happen early on, as part of deciding which stories to tell.

When you don’t give yourself enough time to select the right stories, you might find yourself reaching for the “feel good” filler – a costly move, since story development is resource-intensive.

When you don’t make time to plan the right stories, you might end up reaching for the “feel good” filler. #storytelling #NPMC Click To Tweet

You’ll be able to tackle your story ideas at a reasonable, meaningful pace

After you have brainstormed and documented your list of story ideas and vetted them for strategic alignment, you can group and assign your stories to specific periods in the year. This will be less overwhelming and will give you clarity about what to pursue, when.

This planning also comes in handy when you ask colleagues to connect you with people or organizations to feature in your stories. Instead of periodically putting out a general call for story leads, you can be more specific about what you need, when.

For example, would you like to use stories to promote your organization’s programs or services? When you create your plan, chart out which programs you are going to promote, when – based on key registration or enrollment periods. Then, create a work back schedule for reaching out to members of your program team who will help you to identify story participants.

You can make respectful requests for participation

Knowing your storytelling schedule well in advance will also allow you to create a reasonable and respectful schedule for reaching out to the people you’d like to feature. Making respectful requests with a light touch and long lead times will increase your chances of success.

For example, if you’re using storytelling to recognize a valued supporter or community member, the last thing you want to do is subject them to an unnecessarily rushed process. You’re going to be asking for interviews, for review of your drafts, and perhaps for additional background information. With a long-term plan in place, you’ll be prepared to accommodate their schedules and give participants long lead times and wiggle room, if needed.

You’ll be able to explain your process to participants

I find that some of the most engaged, interesting and generous community members can also be quite shy about being featured in stories. Some participants might have difficulty understanding what it is you mean by storytelling, where the stories are going to be published, and what’s involved in the process – which can be intimidating.

Long lead times give you room to have conversations with the people you’d like to feature about any reservations they might have, accommodations you might need to make, and even room to park the idea until you’re next able to chat with them in person.

With a plan in place, you’ll be ready to explain exactly how and where you intend to use their stories. In addition to clearly communicating what you’re asking of them via email, clarity about your production and publication timeline help encourage people to participate.

You’ll integrate your stories into existing communications tactics.

When you create a long-term plan, you can align your storytelling with key activities, events, editorial calendars, publications, campaigns, announcements, milestones, etc. When you get organized and take a big picture view, you can use storytelling to boost your communications, rather than treating it as an additional tactic.

For example, do you plan to use stories in your annual report? Storytelling can be an effective way to bring your data to life and communicate impact. However, annual report production can be a time-consuming and stressful process. With a long-term plan, you can proactively pursue leads and ideas all year long, developing them as you go. BONUS: as each story is completed, you’ll have new content for your blog, newsletter or other publication. Then, when it’s time to gather content for your annual report, you can republish full or edited versions of the same stories, reducing – instead of adding to – your annual report workload.

You’ll make better use of the time and resources you invested in story development.

Planning will help you ensure that the budget or staff time you invest in story development (including writing, photography and video production) is destined for more than a one-time publication. Planning gives you time to think about additional ways you can use your stories.

Let’s say that you’re developing a story for use on your organization’s website. If you plan ahead – and share your plans – you might discover that your colleague would like to feature the same story in a direct mail campaign. Since you won’t be scrambling at the last minute, you have time to develop one version of the story for your website and rework it for the direct mail format – within that separate department’s production schedule. You can even plan to publish in both places at the same time, for a coordinated feature story.

Set aside time for story planning

Have I convinced you to plan out your stories in advance? Think about creating your story plan alongside editorial planning or communications planning, at team retreats or meetings (since you’ll generally need input and cooperation from your colleagues) or at times of the year that are quieter for you. Any time dedicated to story planning is better than no time at all!

Try to plan out at least six months of storytelling or possibly one year. If you use longer time horizons you’ll probably have to re-evaluate and modify your plan – but having a framework in place will help to keep you on track.

Time saved, effort streamlined, resources leveraged and more effective communications – how can you pass up these benefits of pre-planning? If you aren’t already doing it, it’s time to start putting story planning ahead (far ahead) of story development.

The benefits of planning stories for your nonprofit organization well in advance #NPMC Click To Tweet

If you’d like my help with storytelling, check out my Storytelling Simplified Service and get in touch with me. I’ve built support with story planning into this package.

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