Telling stories is hard when you are embroiled in the day to day work of your nonprofit organization. The difficulty is getting so much of what you do down to a few impactful words – your story.
You know your charitable organization does powerful things to make the world better. You know how you do it like take food to elderly, teach music or robotics in an after school program. So, how do you put the pieces together for that memorable story? Like many, you try and feel the audience just doesn’t GET it.
Create a story telling culture
At a recent board meeting, we started with a “mission moment.” It’s so simple. Put this on your agenda every time. Have someone share a testimony as an opening. Do the same with your leadership meetings, with staff and department meetings. This helps you create a storytelling culture.
A storytelling habit encourages staff and leaders to share personal stories of how your work changed your life. Board members mention learning a perspective they never considered. Staff tell of that day they will never forget when a client showed them their life was forever changed. Regularly telling your stories of impact forces you to get beyond the how, the numbers, the politics that created the issue and rehearse those heartfelt moments every day.
Start with Why?
So someone just asked you, “Tell us what you do?” Don’t answer that question. Begin your answer with why instead of what. When you start with why, you know the audience gets the most important part of the story first. If you only have a few seconds to make an impression – that may be all you have. Once they hear the why, you can fill in with how you overcome those challenges with the work you do.
It’s all about relationships
Even if you work in the accounting department, you have relationships. Story telling can be very uncomfortable if you feel the story has to be about your work. But it isn’t about you. It’s about your relationships. You might be the bookkeeper. Your story may be about that client that gave you a smile you will never forget. It may be the volunteer who shows up every Wednesday, rain or shine to help out because they are a special part of your efforts.
Not just intake forms – interviews
Take down the barriers to getting to know each other. Every nonprofit has to have data. You get data from your surveys and intake forms. So ensure that your team has the time and tools to do real interviews when they fill out client, donors and volunteer information. Add a question during that process that is just to know that person on the form. This type of regular relationship building will give them ways to know how to meet needs better – and the stories become more complete. Staff will benefit in all areas of their job if they are great at interviews.