When I talk to non-profit professionals about storytelling, often the conversation is fraught with their struggle to get buy-in for storytelling. Their board thinks it’s too trendy. Their executive director is too busy to lead the charge. Program staff are not supportive with the endeavor. And so the fundraiser’s enthusiasm for making significantly positive changes to their communications fizzles. Perhaps this sounds familiar to you, too.
Over the last few years of my work in storytelling and donor communications, I’ve realized one very important thing: for storytelling to work, it needs to start at the organization’s cultural level. Organizations who are telling the most compelling stories and sharing a high volume of stories generally tend to have significant internal buy-in for storytelling. Often this also translates into having a culture of storytelling at the organization. There’s folklore about the cause and everyone is enamored with it – even the donors.
What is a Culture of Storytelling
A culture of storytelling is when your organization internally engages in storytelling on a regular basis.
Staff members tell each other stories. There is open and transparent communications. There is also a certain level of vulnerability, which naturally comes with the storytelling territory.
But at a deeper level, a culture of storytelling is really driven by one story; a shared story that staff members are all a part of and engaged in. This is the “why” and the “what” story of their work. When everyone is bought into the same story about the work, it makes for a much stronger organizational culture. There might also be underlying values and principles that drive everyone’s day-to-day work. Articulating and connecting with those regularly is essential.
How Can You Do This?
After reading more about what a culture of storytelling can entail, you might feel a bit daunted. If you are, I don’t blame you. I feel daunted by it, too.
Ideally the place where we want to start instilling organizational culture in employees is during their on-boarding process. But what should you do about the people who currently work at your organization? How can you work with them to begin shifting the culture?
Small steps, my friend.
Start with a discussion about the “why” and “what” of your work. Ask everyone to explain their why. Why do they do this work? Why do they want to be involved with this organization? Why do they think this organization exists? This is a great opportunity for team building and to get everyone on the same page. You can do this will staff and/or at a board meeting. Even better – get the staff members and board members together for this activity.
Break down silos. Silos are the common enemy to most non-profit work and storytelling is no exception. Part of the value of having the “why” and “what” conversations with your colleagues is to realize that everyone is on the same page. There is no “us” and “them.” Commit to unity and togetherness. Don’t allow silos to build back up.
Communicate More. Fostering open communication is a hugely important part of creating a culture of storytelling. I encourage you to lead by example. Talk to your colleagues more often. Tell them your stories. Focus on better interpersonal communication. Organizational culture is made up of many things, include behavior. By communication more, we can model a different behavior that can fundamentally change our organization’s culture.
These are just a few examples of the small steps that you can take to change your organization’s culture and begin to instill more storytelling. I’d also love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Please leave a comment below!
I’ll be leading a much longer discussion on the topic on March 26. Please join me for Creating a Culture of Storytelling that Helps Your Organization Raise More Money.