How difficult has it been for you to collect your organization’s stories to use in fundraising and communications materials? Sometimes it can feel like you’re trying to herd kittens. Everyone is going in different directions, and you are chasing after all of them. It’s exhausting and usually doesn’t end with the results that you desire.
When I talk to blog readers, this is one of the most common storytelling challenges they tell me about. Today, I want to offer you 3 key tips to coordinate collecting stories from staff.
Why Story Collection Is So Difficult
Collecting stories is a challenge for many organizations. From my experience over the last couple of years, here are the most common reasons I’ve encountered:
Problem #1 – Staff don’t understand what constitutes a good story. When staff members don’t understand what they are supposed to be looking for, they don’t give you the result you need.
Problem #2 – Lack of buy-in from senior leaders. It can be challenging to get staff to participate in storytelling and collecting if they see that the organization doesn’t really value or use stories. Without buy-in from the top down, they think that their efforts will be wasted.
Problem #3 – Not enough consistency to build a habit. If you want staff members to share their story leads regularly, it is best not to be sporadic in approaching them, so it doesn’t appear to be a random project. Story collection must become part of their work habits so it is second nature to them to be on the alert for good material.
The good news is that all of these problems share a common solution. You can create a streamlined system for collecting stories.
Tips to Coordinate Collecting Stories
As a non-profit, you probably already have systems in place for processing gifts, updating your website, putting together your annual appeal, and so on. Why not create a system for collecting stories as well? Doing so will help you coordinate and streamline your storytelling efforts, and that can only help your fundraising efforts.
Here are three tips to help you create a system for collecting stories and coordinating your efforts:
Tip #1 – Train all staff starting with senior leadership. If you want all hands on board with your storytelling efforts, it is helpful for everyone to perceive and value the project in a similar fashion. Start with senior leadership. Show them the differences between fundraising programs that do and do not utilize stories. Draw on research and data from our sector, that proves donors want more accountability (i.e., more stories). Suggest the value in having all staff members understand storytelling better. You can mention the benefits to the bottom line and to employee morale. (Read more about these benefits here). Host a one hour get-together to talk about the importance of storytelling, practice telling each other stories, and to explain how staff can share their stories more often.
Tip #2 – Create tools and opportunities for staff to share their stories. Since this is something you’ll encourage staff to do during the training, it is important to have the tools and opportunities in place beforehand. Start using the first five minutes of every meeting as a time to check in and swap stories. This makes it more of a priority for everyone. Consider hosting a quarterly staff assembly that is all about sharing stories. Think of it as an open mic where everyone gets to talk about their work and help motivate each other. Finally, create a story collection tool. This could be something as simple as a Google form where staff can submit stories or even a paper form. Either way, it is important to create this tool and to remind people about it.
Tip #3 – Tell others what kinds of stories you need and when. In addition to creating tools for storytelling, and educating colleagues about it, you have to be organized and proactive. This means creating your fundraising and communications calendar so you know in advance what kind of story you will need depending on what is going out. On a monthly basis, let your colleagues know what’s in the pipeline and what kinds of stories you’re looking for. By offering them clear direction, you will increase your chances of finding stories that amaze.
What’s your biggest challenge when it comes to collecting stories? Leave a comment below with your struggle and what you are doing to try to overcome it.
Howard Crooks says
few cooperate…”Gee…I don’t know any good stories you could use in the Foundation newsletter”
The quality of the story ideas I get at the university where I work is not always very good. People think, “Oh, I know a really smart student/a really generous donor/a really impressive alum. You should write a story about her.” But there’s not really a story there. I don’t always know how to communicate what makes for a good story–triumph against the odds, a unique or surprising project people are working on, something heartwarming with a good human interest side…?
Vanessa Chase Lockshin says
Hey Allison – Really great question. What I would suggest you do is ask your colleagues why they think it’s a great story. That simple question “why” will help you determine whether or not there is actually a story there.
In terms of helping them recognize stories, they best thing you can do is give them examples of what you’re looking for.