Telling Your Organization’s Story

After years of being a storyteller and a fundraising/communications consultant, I decided to marry these two pursuits to create the most effective way for non profit organizations (and others) to communicate to their target markets to accomplish two main goals: generate passion and motivate action (toward philanthropy).

I realized that the most sophisticated communication technology we have when it comes to building relationships is simply ourself.  And the best tools are well-crafted and told stories.  After all, they say a story is the shortest distance between two people and telling your organization’s story is really no different than the stories we share with each other every day.

However, if you’re going to enter into the realm of ‘Narrative Philanthropy’ I’ll warn you… it does require a wee bit of work.

First of all, you need to gather your organization’s history, mission and most of all – the positive impact it has on those it serves (proof of its “mission in action”).  Then, focus on choosing, gathering and telling the most convincing and compelling stories to your audience (could be future or current volunteers, staff or donors).  The goal of an impact story is to take others to the front lines of where your organization and its cause meet.  Choose the most emotionally-engaging way possible to tell these stories (using the most appropriate medium) to make your audience feel as though they are right there.

Once you’ve covered the history and impact, your next task is to explain your future vision; paint a picture of what the community will look and feel like if your organization realized its mission (or current goal).  Don’t forget to include the journey and resources required to get there (highlights of your plan and your budget).  Next up, you need to articulate how your audience can help to achieve this future state…your “call to action” (in easy to follow steps).  In other words, place them in this story of success.

In collecting this information, think about answering the following questions…Why is your organization the best at what it does? Why does it deserve support?  Is it a good steward of funds?  Develop your own set of questions – but in following the mantra of “show versus tell” distill and incorporate the answers into a handful of powerfully convincing and compelling tales…rather than simply listing these as facts.

Over my 20+ years as a storyteller, I’ve learned that without a doubt, simplicity and authenticity wins out every time.   By mastering how to recognize, understand and tell authentic stories about your organization and its work (in plain language) – you’ll have the vital building blocks to create a powerful communication strategy.

As you may have noticed, there is a revival of interest in storytelling and as a result there are wonderful resources on this topic.  You can find lots of books, websites, blogs, etc. on many aspects of storytelling.  While there isn’t a book specifically on applying storytelling to non profit organizations (but I’m working on it), I’ve listed some of my favourite resources below.

And, don’t forget to seek out storytelling gatherings in your neck of the woods (check on the national website for Storytellers of Canada/Conteurs du Canada.

Learning the art of storytelling:
The Way of the Storyteller – Ruth Sawyer
Improving Your Storytelling – Doug Lipman
Suddenly They Heard Footsteps – Dan Yashinsky
Couple of YouTube videos on the ingredients of a great story:
NPR’s Scott Simon on How To Tell A Story

NPR’s Ira Glass  talking about Storytelling (first part of four)

Storytelling for corporations:
The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling (or) The Springboard – Stephen Denning
The Story Factor (or) Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins – Annette Simmons
Your Client’s Story (specifically for financial advisors) – Scott West & Mitch Anthony

Gathering personal or family stories:
Telling Stories of Life through Guided Autobiography Groups:  James Birren & Kathryn N. Cochran
Writing About Your Life – William Zinsser
Storycatcher – Christina Baldwin

Focus on stories about/for women:
Women Who Run With the Wolves – Clarissa Pinkola Estes
Inviting the Wolf In – Loren Niemi & Elizabeth Ellis
Composing a Life – Mary Catherine Bateson

Blending creativity (and the need to) in your work:
A Whole New Mind – Daniel H. Pink
And a great Ted Talks video by Sir Ken Robinson on how schools are killing creativity

The Leader’s Edge – Charles J. Palus & David M. Horth

Best book ever – on using plain language in all you write/tell:
Death Sentences – Don Watson

Through her business, The Narrative Company, Norma Cameron works with clients across Canada as a fundraising and communications consultant, teacher and facilitator. She believes passionately in the need for clarity in vision, mission and goals, plain language in all communications and tapping into the unparalleled power of story to motivate teams and attract support.

Norma is part of the CAGP Teaching Faculty and as a speaker and seasoned storyteller; she has performed at conferences, concerts and festivals in Canada, the USA and the UK.  You can reach her at
thenarrativecompany@telus.net.

 

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About Norma Cameron, CFRE

Norma Cameron is owner and principal of The Narrative Company, formed in 2006 to help people and organizations understand and apply the “power of story”. Prior to this, Norma had over 20 years’ experience in communications, fundraising, organizational development, performance storytelling, public speaking and training. As an engaging keynote speaker and seminar leader, she works with public, private and non-profit sector clients. As a seasoned storyteller, she has performed at conferences, concerts and festivals across Canada and the UK.
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