As a savvy nonprofit professional, you understand that effective storytelling is one of the most important ways to raise money and grow support for your cause.
However, there are certain challenges that some nonprofits face when collecting and disseminating stories about their organization.
I have detailed the three most common challenges that nonprofits face in storytelling, along with my suggested solutions.
1) Challenge – Our organization has never told stories before.
If your organization has always relied on pure data or vague conjecture in its communications, changing the status quo is going to be difficult, but not impossible. Your nonprofit may even operate with everyone in their own silo, not sharing information and resources – the program staff not sharing with the development staff, etc.
Creating a culture of storytelling requires training, coaching and professional development for everyone involved in the organization – staff and volunteers. It also requires reaching out directly to clients and people who have experienced your programs and services – something that you may not be fully comfortable doing, and something that program staff may not be open to.
To get the stories, you need to change the closed-off, cards-to-the-chest culture and encourage the organization to become more transparent.
Solution – Get outside help or professional development training. Hire a consultant or narrative strategist to work with the organization on changing the culture to one that embraces and encourages storytelling.
A nonprofit that openly shares a variety of stories about successes and failures is one that shows donors and supporters that a) it’s making a difference and b) it learns from its mistakes and changes course. That translates into being a good steward of funds, and a great agent of social change.
2) Challenge – Our clients’ identities need to be kept confidential.
I ran the development shop (i.e. me, myself and I) at a small nonprofit serving women and children who had experienced domestic and sexual violence, so I understand this problem well.
In many cases, even if they wanted to share their stories, the clients’ identities needed to be protected for their own safety.
Solution – Get creative. Some ideas:
*Speak with alumni of the program to gather success stories. At the domestic violence program where I worked we spoke with women and children who had moved on from the program and were leading successful, healthy lives.
*Collect stories from your donors as to why they give, and from your volunteers as to why they volunteer. They all have stories of their own and a reason to be giving back to your organization, some of them will welcome the opportunity to share it with others.
*Find a local celebrity. At the program where I worked, we contacted a local news anchor who lost a sister to domestic violence to come speak at our annual breakfast. She spoke eloquently and emotionally about how she wished that her sister could have found a program like ours – it may have saved her life.
3) Challenge – Our clients don’t want to share their stories.
Do not underestimate your clients. Empower them.
I am positive that there are clients, volunteers, staff and others in your community that you have touched who are willing and able to share their stories. Current clients may be a no go, but take a look through your database of clients served, talk with program staff, or conduct an anonymous survey.
Solution – Get to the root of the problem. There are many reasons why clients may feel reluctant to share their stories.
*They may feel exploited. Perhaps a client or two shared stories at an event previously, and had a bad experience.
*They may not want this experience to define them. I know at the domestic violence shelter, it was very important for the survivors to hear that their experience with us is not the defining moment of their life.
*They may not be sure how sharing their story will directly help others. You need to make this connection. Tell them that breaking the silence and erasing the stigma around getting help will encourage others to step forward and get help.
Sharing a story and an experience is incredibly personal and powerful. Make sure that the people you work with and serve feel like they are giving back and helping to create change. Make it an empowering decision, not one that feels obligatory or like a chore. And most importantly, respect people’s opinions, even if they originally say they will help and then get cold feet.
Are there any other reasons that I missed?