There are endless ways to tell non-profit stories. For this most part here on The Storytelling Non-Profit blog, we talk about tell stories using the written word. While I personally love written stories, I am equally fascinated by visual stories, especially those that tell the story of data.
Non-profits have no shortage of data and there is often a desire to share that data with an audience. The problem that organizations have historically run into is that they don’t find an elegant way to share the data that is relevant and easy for the audience to understand. One of the more modern ways that some organizations are telling stories with data is with infographics.
Today, we have an interview with T.J. McGovern who is going to talk about a recent infographic project and lessons learned.
The Storytelling Non-Profit: Tell us a bit of background about yourself and the projects you worked on.
T.J. McGovern: I began my career in institutional advancement as alumni director for a private high school in the Chicago, IL area. Immediately, I was excited about the people and processes around funding a vision. I was then fortunate to serve a state wide institution that represented all the private colleges in the state of Indiana where some of my first early mentors helped me learn how to communicate in a clear, concise and compelling manner. These mentors were college presidents, chief college advancement officers, high profile philanthropists and foundation directors. Prior to launching my own company, I also served as Director of Development for the largest community college system in the nation in addition to completing my master’s in non-profit management from the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs. In essence, I help clients clarify their message, tell a capture my attention story, and fund the desired future.
The Storytelling Non-Profit: You used infographics to tell a story. Why did you decide to use this medium as opposed to other options?
T.J. McGovern: When I was in 8th grade, I did a report on the life of Walt Disney. As a result of this report, I came to realize the importance of looking for ways to make visual the impact you are creating in the nonprofit space. Early on, I discovered this medium from another consultant that allows nonprofit organizations and individuals realize what business they are really in. In my opinion, non-profits are in the business of capturing people’s attention around how we are saving, changing and transforming lives as a result of our work. I have concluded that nonprofit is a status and not a strategy!
In September of 1953, Walt Disney was sending his brother Roy to meet with bankers in New York. Roy was going to seek financing for a new concept: Disneyland. At the time, Disney had cartoons but no theme parks, which is hard to imagine now with multiple theme parks worldwide.
As the story is told, Walt called in an imagineer named Herb Ryman and said, “You know bankers don’t have any imagination, none at all. You have to show them what you’re going to do.” He then asked Herb to help him create a mock-up of Disneyland on a large storyboard. It was a splendid painting that even included black light paint so that you could see what Disneyland would look like at night. This story comes from Walt Disney Imagineering: A Behind-the-Dreams Look at Making the Magic Real. The book includes pictures of the storyboard. I chose this medium which is called an engagement tool because of its simplicity and ability to guide the conversation with an interested investor.
The Storytelling Non-Profit: When you started the process of designing the infographics, how did you decide what information to include?
T.J. McGovern: In a professional sense, I have found people will engage you at the level of your choosing. It is the difference between can I come talk to you giving us money versus can we come talk to you how we are transforming/saving/impacting the lives of kids/environment/education etc. Of the many times I have asked investors to fund a vision, they are really wanting answers to three primary questions:
1. WHERE is the money going? (And WHY?)
2. WHO decided that? (and HOW?)
3. WHAT do you want from me? (And WHEN?)
These three questions formed the framework for the tool.
The Storytelling Non-Profit: What story did you hope the infographics would tell?
T.J. McGovern: Allow me to start with the story the tool will not tell. The vision card and engagement tool is not a PowerPoint, campaign brochure, 3-Ring binder, collateral piece, a text heavy small print, multiple page document or material from the marketing department. The goal is a simple, visual ‘tool’ (think map) to help present a powerful case for support on an actual visit with a qualified prospect.
The purpose of the tool is three-fold:
1. It is a specific, visual way to engage the potential investor in conversation and dialogue.
2. It provides a great structure for the visit.
3. It puts the ‘ask’ (how you can help) right in front of the staff (engagement team) and the prospect. The strategy with the tool is to guide the ebb of the presentation!
The Storytelling Non-Profit: What advice would you offer to other non-profit professionals who are just getting starting with storytelling?
T.J. McGovern: In all my reading about the nonprofit space, the following idea really captures my belief in the power of telling stories as expressed by Ben Horowitz, the co-founder of Andreessen Horowitz, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm with investments in Facebook, Twitter and Airbnb. I’m sharing a full excerpt from his book The Hard Thing About Hard Things. With professionals who are just getting started with storytelling, there is a lot of wisdom in his words.
“The CEO must set the context within which every employee operates. The context gives meaning to the specific work that people do, aligns interests, enables decision making, and provides motivation. Well-structured goals and objectives contribute to the context, but they do not provide the whole story. More to the point, they are not the story. The story of the company goes beyond quarterly or annual goals and gets to the hard-core question of why. Why should I join this company? Why should I be excited to work here? Why should I buy its product (or donate to this cause-my edits)? Why should I invest in the company? Why is the world better off as a result of this company’s existence? When a company clearly articulates its story, the context for everyone— employees, partners, customers, investors, and the press— becomes clear.
The CEO doesn’t have to be the creator of the vision. Nor does she have to be the creator of the story. But she must be the keeper of the vision and the story. As such, the CEO ensures that the company story is clear and compelling.
The story is not the mission statement; the story does not have to be succinct. It is the story. Companies can take as long as they need to tell it, but they must tell it and it must be compelling. A company without a story is usually a company without a strategy.
Want to see a great company story? Read Jeff Bezos’s three-page letter he wrote to shareholders in 1997. In telling Amazon’s story in this extended form— not as a mission statement, not as a tagline— Jeff got all the people who mattered on the same page as to what Amazon was about.”
Once internalized, the story is a vehicle that creates meaning, strategy and impact.
The Storytelling Non-Profit: Anything else you’d like to share?
T.J. McGovern: “Even if you have reams of evidence on your side, remember: numbers numb, jargon jars, and nobody ever marched on Washington because of a pie chart. If you want to connect with your audience, tell them a story.” Andy Goodman
Check out a couple of the infographics that T.J. has worked on here and the image below.
For more examples of non-profit infographics check out this blog post from Classy and this Pinterest board.
Jeff Mendola says
Could T.J share a couple of his infographics? I think it would be really helpful.
Zach Shefska says
Great interview, from a great nonprofit practitioner! Like Jeff mentioned above, I’d also be interested to see some of TJ’s visualizations, an example “think map” would be a great resource!
Vanessa Chase Lockshin says
Hi Jeff and Zach – We’ve added in the links to T.J.’s work at the end of the post.