One of the challenges of nonprofit storytelling is making sure everyone is on the same page. Does everyone agree on which stories should be told? Does everyone have a shared vision for how these stories will be told? Does everyone believe telling stories is important to your cause? These are the types of questions fundraising and communications professionals face.
If what you’ve just read sounds like an impossibility for your organization, I’d like to share with you an activity that I use with my clients to smooth the storytelling process.
Build your foundation
All too often we want to dive right into storytelling. But when we do this, we skip an important first step: building a foundation.
A foundation for storytelling serves two purposes: 1) it creates a shared vision for storytelling at your organization, and 2) it gets everyone on the same page about how the stories will be told. Without these two things, storytelling can become significantly more difficult.
How do you build a foundation for storytelling? The short answer: it takes teamwork; a group process.
Start by identifying the key players who need to be a part of this process. Who is influential within your organization? Who can rally the troops behind them? Which people best represent the diversity (in a broad sense of the term) of your organization?
How to create your storytelling guidelines
Once you have the right people around the table, it’s time to start the conversation. Here’s how I like to structure it:
Step 1—Provide an overview of storytelling and highlight how it can benefit each area of your organization.
Step 2—Invite people to share their thoughts on what you’ve presented. Create space for voices to be heard and discussion to be had.
Step 3—Based on what people are saying, make a list of the pros and cons of storytelling for your organization. You will then use this list as a springboard for creating your guidelines. I like to put a star by ideas that are mentioned multiple times and then look at these first when creating the guidelines.
Here’s an example. Let’s say several people have expressed concern about client confidentiality in stories. When circling back to this concern with a view toward making guidelines, one question to ask the group might be, “What can we do to tell stories that respect and honor clients’ identities?” As people answer this question, start writing down their ideas and use these to create your guidelines.
To further this example, let’s say the group suggests:
- Give clients significant agency in the storytelling process
- Create aliases for clients who don’t want to reveal their identities
- Change any details of a story that could give away the client’s true identity
I would then ask everyone, “Which of these is our biggest priority?” and “Which ones should be part of our guidelines for storytelling?”
While this is just an overview of the process, I hope you can see that by facilitating discussion between members of your organization, you will be able to create a set of guidelines for organizational storytelling in which staff members have a voice. The benefit to this is that your colleagues will feel like they have a stake in storytelling, and they will be invested in the initiative.
Have you ever tried something like this with your colleagues? Share your thoughts on this process by leaving a comment below.