Embrace storytelling as a catalyst for organizational change

storytellingLast month I sat down with an executive director and two board members to explore how I might be able to help their organization grow their organizational capacity. Over the course of an hour, we talked about all kinds of awesome things such as:

  • the capacity of their existing board volunteers to govern effectively and raise enough funding to operate
  • what average Joe & Jane on main street think their community’s biggest needs are and what the organization sees as the community’s greatest needs . . . and do those things align?
  • measuring the impact the organization is having with its programs.
  • what does “data-driven decision-making” look like and how does it impact board governance?

This laundry list of awesome topics actually could include another three or four topics. It really was shaping up to be a great meeting. I was starting to believe there might be a project or two this board might invite me to collaborate with them on undertaking.
So, when I injected a consensus building question into the conversation such as “So, where do you think I can help,” imagine how surprised I was when none of the things we had just discussed were presented as something they wanted my help with doing.
My jaw nearly hit the table when the board president looked me square in the eyes and said . . .

We can really use your help with developing our organization’s ‘stories’ and working with us on how to effectively tell those stories to the community. We recognize the value of data, but we think storytelling is of greater value.

I’d be lying if the voice inside my head was immediately skeptical. Luckily, I found the strength to keep mouth shut and simply agree to help them with what they asked of me.
In the days and weeks since that meeting, I am getting more and more excited about this project. I’m even starting to think the board president might be a genius. Here are just a few reasons for my ever increasing “glass-half-full” thoughts:

  • Let’s face it . . . data is worthless when shared with donors in a vacuum
  • Real-life stories bring data to life and provide context
  • Resource development activities such as cultivation, solicitation and stewardship are rooted in emotions which require stories coupled with a little bit of data
  • Using storytelling as a starting point could be an effective “organizational assessment lens for board members as they try to develop their own personal stories about the organization, its programs and its impact
  • The art of developing a board volunteer’s story can lead to increased engagement (e.g. visiting during operational hours, volunteers to work with clients, talking to those who have been impacted by the organization’s programs, etc)
  • This approach can spark an honest discussion between board and staff about what more needs to be done to generate more success stories (or conversely, why board volunteers are reluctant to share stories and ask for contributions from friends)

After marinading on this commitment for a few days, I got back to my home office and immediate visited the website of my “virtual friend” Chris Davenport at 501 Videos, surfed over to his virtual store and purchased a 10-pack of his back-pocket book “Nonprofit Storytelling for Board Members“. My plan is to return in a few weeks, distribute one of these booklets to each board volunteer, and start working with them on how to develop their own stories and share those stories with their friends.
I’m viewing this as an organic approach to organizational development. I am buckled up and prepared for wherever this exercise takes us. I’m already predicting that the possibilities are endless.
Are your board members out in the community actively telling their friends and your supporters (and prospective new donors) stories about your organization? If not not, why do you think that is? More importantly, what are you going to do about it?
I feel compelled to provide a FREE PLUG for the 2015 Nonprofit Storytelling Conference being hosted in Seattle, Washington on November 12 & 13. Only the first 300 people who register will be allowed to attend. (Disclaimer: I am not a conference organizer. I have never attended. I don’t gain anything from this shameless plug. I just thought some of you might be interested in learning about this opportunity, especially if you’re intrigued by today’s blog post)
Here’s to your health!
Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
www.thehealthynonprofit.com 
erik@thehealthynonprofit.com
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2 comments

  1. Another spot on message! Data and story telling are like, well, love and marriage….can’t have one without the other!

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