Collecting stories is one of the top challenges that non-profits site when it comes to successful storytelling. For fundraising and communications professionals, this challenge persists because they are removed from program delivery and don’t have direct access to the stories. The solution to this problem is to proactively develop a story library so that you always have a number of stories at hand for fundraising and communications materials that you might be producing.
A story library is basically a term of a number of stories that you have stockpiled. They are stories that you developed and wrote with no particular project in mind. Rather you collected them with the hope of using them someday. The advantage of stockpiling stories is that you have already done some of the heavy-lifting for storytelling and can simply thumb through your options to find the best one. This is a great resource for newsletter content, email appeals, grant applications, social media posts, and more.
You can keep all of your stories in one Word document. You could set up a filing system to organizing them. You could also use a program like Evernote or OneNote to organize and maintain your story library. Choose a system that works best for you. It does not need to be fancy or overly complicated to get the job done.
5 Ways to Build a Story Library
#1 – Schedule a weekly time for story collecting
It may seem like a simple tip, but sometimes if it’s not in our calendars it is not going to happen. Commit to a weekly time – maybe 30 minutes or 1 hour – where you will focus on collecting stories to add to your library. During this time you could interview someone for a story, take a colleague out for coffee to talk about a program, volunteer in a program at your organization, or something else. The point is to get out from behind your desk and go to where the stories are.
#2 – Create “story time” at meetings
As the story champion at your organization, it’s your job to facilitate story time. Think about making the first 5 or 10 minutes of a meeting an opportunity for people to share stories. It could be success stories or even failure stories. You could also report back on how stories are being used and their outcomes. This is an opportunity to connect as well as an opportunity to identify new stories for your library.
#3 – Develop a story submission form
Make it as easy as possible for people to share their stories with you. This may include creating a digital or paper story submission form that people can fill out. This form will not have every single detail of the story. Rather it is just a starting point that allows you to follow up and book an interview. I’ve created a sample form using Google Forms so that you can see an example of this type of form.
#4 – Start an internal newsletter
Your organization probably has an external newsletter that you send to donors and other constituents, but what about internal communications? Having an organizational newsletter just for staff (or even volunteers) is a great way to keep people up to date on what matters. It’s also an opportunity for you to remind people about storytelling. Specifically, you can let others know what types of stories you are looking for and how they can share them.
#5 – Always keep an eye out and an ear open
Really our job as storytellers is to always be engaged in conversation and to see every conversation as an opportunity for storytelling. No matter who you are talking to or what you’re talking about, engage in the conversation. Be present, be curious, and ask questions.
Those are 5 ideas to help you build and grow your story library. I hope they give you some fresh inspiration for storytelling.
Do you currently do any of these things? Are there other things you do to collect stories? Leave a comment below and share your ideas.
Linda Grigg says
I think your tip about a weekly story-gathering exercise is good, and you’ve prompted me to create an Outlook task to do this. Currently I tend to interview clients once they have completed a programme, which ties in with the comment you made recently about interviewing people when they are ‘healed’ (or at least on the healing journey). We do have a story library. Usually client stories are collected for ‘any purpose’. They are filed electronically according to the service/programme they engaged with. We try to ‘retire’ stories/photos once they reach 2yrs old (even if we have not actually used them in any way) so I also keep a spreadsheet that lists how clients’ stories and photos have been utilised. Clients are able to request to see a copy of their interview transcript at any time within that two years. Once the ‘expiry date’ has been reached, the stories and photos are deleted. However the release form is retained, in the case of any future questions over permission.
Tzivia Greenberg says
Re #2- creating story time – Just recently I’ve had the opportunity to take part in an end of the year meeting with kindergarten teachers working in one of our programs. I asked them if they’d like to share a story having to do with their work in the program. Two kindergarten teachers were so happy to comply, making the meeting so much more interesting , while giving me two new stories I can now share with our friends and donors.
Vanessa Chase Lockshin says
I’m so glad to hear that that idea is working well for you, Tzivia!
Charity Armstrong says
This post about creating a story library is “on the mark” for my organization. We are in the process of working out a process that is appropriate for the way we work. (Several of us work remotely.) Lot of good ideas to mull over. Thank you.
Vanessa Chase Lockshin says
Really glad to hear that, Charity. Let me know how some of the ideas work out for your virtual staff.