As fundraising and communications professionals, we most often associate storytelling with our external communications. But there are many important benefits for your organization’s programs and services. North York Community House is a non-profit based in the Great Toronto Area and as a part of our “Learn From” series, they are giving us an inside peak of their digital storytelling project.
Here’s an example of a digital story that one of the North York Community House participants created to explain their personal struggle with mental health.
The Digital Storytelling Program at North York Community House facilitates story creating workshops with many different age groups and communities. One of our most successful partnerships has been with secondary schools in the TDSB. Through the High School system, NYCH has held various Digital Storytelling workshops with ESL students, mainstream students and school staff. Digital Stories are created in facilitated workshop that can consist of up to 10 participants and be completed over 3-5 days.
The evaluations conducted indicated that many newcomer youth that participated in the Digital Story making process became more involved in their schools by joining clubs and taking part in extracurricular activities, creating leadership qualities both within their schools and the surrounding communities. Adult newcomers that created Digital Stories felt empowered by the experience and worked towards becoming advocates for social change in their community. After viewing youth made Digital Stories at a workshop, school principals indicated a greater understanding of the specific issues facing the families of newcomer youth and how those issues relate to the their performance in the classroom.
Another participant from the North York Community House Digital Story program created a very powerful story about their experience with domestic and child abuse.
1. What are your top 3 tips for facilitating a digital storytelling project?
There are so many tips, but here are 3 important ones:
#1) The participants will be sharing very deep and personal stories (even when they say they are not, they always do), so it is crucial that the facilitator create a caring, respectful and safe space amongst the participants. If the participants don’t feel comfortable in the story circle they will not share their true stories and will not enjoy the overall experience.
#2) There is a lot to cover in the session, and with participants working on personal and creative pieces, they tend to lose track of time. It is very important (and quite hard) that facilitators always keep the participants on timelines and encourage them to move forward. The worst feeling at the end of a session is to be the only one not completed.
#3) It is very important for facilitators to help guide the participant’s stories and tech pieces without changing the actual story or point of view. You want to make sure that the participant has full creative ownership of their story, otherwise they will feel a disconnect when it is completed. Sometimes facilitators can fall into the pattern of taking charge of the piece and creating what they think would work best…it is really important to stay away from this. It’s their story, they know how to tell it best!
2. How (if at all) has this project changed or influenced NYCH as an organization?
NYCH as an agency has always valued the personal stories of its participants and the community in general. We find that there is a lot of power in hearing about the histories and experiences of individuals and how they have been shaped into the people that they have become. Digital Storytelling has given NYCH a unique tool to capture these stories and experiences. NYCH staff is able to connect to issues immediately by watching a digital story explaining it first hand, rather than reading about it.
Staff has started using bits and pieces of Digital Storytelling (DS) programming in many of their workshops and programs to encourage personal reflection and thought. Some of the stories have been used as powerful advocacy tools and are very effective. Many of our staff have also created a DS, in fact, no staff is able to facilitate any part of a DS session without first creating their own. This has helped the staff learn more about themselves and each other, which has really helped them connect deeper with their clients.
NYCH is also seen as a leader in Digital Storytelling for the non-profit sector in the Greater Toronto Area and is often called upon to present at educational institutions, academic conferences, other non-profits and arts related programs. Also, after seeing the impact that DS makes, we are often requested to train other non-profit staff on the process and tech pieces of DS, as well as partner to deliver DS in their current programs.
The NYCH Digital Storytelling Program has quite a unique train the trainer model that gives an opportunity to adult, youth and staff participants to continue with the DS program after creating their stories as facilitators. They are given trainings, shadow facilitation opportunities and then eventually are able to lead their own DS team through a workshop. It is a great capacity building model that has been working very well.
Thank you for sharing what you’ve learned from facilitating this amazing program, North York Community House! I greatly appreciated the reminder that storytelling is a therapeutic and healing activity. Its power goes far beyond fundraising and marketing possibilities. Cultivating this type of storytelling is the heart of a culture of storytelling.
There are many more interviews and examples of non-profit storytelling to come! Be sure to sign up for our weekly email newsletter so that you don’t miss a post.