Storytelling can be so much more than just a fundraising tool

storytellingLast night I met with a non-profit board of directors, and we spent an hour talking about the “Three Stories You Need To Tell“. I centered the discussion around the Nonprofit Storytelling for Board Members curriculum developed by Chris Davenport at 501 Videos LLC.
It was a great evening (in this facilitator’s opinion). We talked about the importance of developing each board volunteer’s “involvement story” as well as developing an organizational “impact story” and “thank you story“. At the end of the meeting, worksheets were distributed and work groups were formed. The excitement and buzz around developing the first draft of stories that will be shared at the organization’s next board meeting was palpable.
For me, I’m excited for this organization because I suspect cultivating a culture of storytelling will jump start this board’s resource development efforts. More importantly, I believe a storytelling culture can used during planning processes to engage board members in:

  1. organizational assessment
  2. vision casting

Let me take a moment to explain . . .
assessmentHow many times have you been handed pages full of data at the start of any type of planning process (e.g. strategic planning, resource development planning, etc). You are typically asked to look for gaps in addition to organization strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
This type of work is foundational and important to any planning process. However, the board president at last night’s meeting would tell you that data looked at within a vacuum is worthless.
So, the question I posed last night is: “What if we used a storytelling paradigm to contextualize our organizational data at the start of a planning process?
For example, let’s say your data is telling you that you served 25% fewer clients in 2015 than 2014. Rather than just accepting that data point at face value, your board could drill deeper to find the stories behind why this is happening. Perhaps, the story of one of one of the 2014 clients who stopped being a client in 2015 could be told and a deeper understanding of what is happening could be achieved by decision-makers.
I would argue that a deeper understanding of your organizational data will enrich your planning process.
Vision casting
visionAfter the assessment phase of any planning process is over, it is common for boards to spend time developing a vision for the future. It is upon this vision that goals, strategies, tactics and metrics are all built.
For years, one of my favorite “vision casting exercises” has been asking board members to pretend they are newspaper reporters (I probably like this exercise because I used to run a small town newspaper many years ago).
I ask them to envision themselves five or 10 years in the future writing a story about their organization. Of course, the question is: “what is that story about?
As part of this exercise, I ask everyone to write their story and share it with the group. This gets everyone engaged in creating a collective vision.
Of course, this is nothing more than using storytelling as a tool to create a vision.
The question I asked last night was what other storytelling exercises could we develop to create a shared vision? Could we even use storytelling as a brainstorming opportunity to develop organizational goals and strategies?
I believe the answer to these questions is YES because of what Chris Davenport tells us are the “Thee C’s of Storytelling“:

  1. Character
  2. Connection
  3. Conflict
  4. Conquest

It is this final “C” that has me believing a storytelling approach can get board volunteers thinking about goals and strategies. After all, if every good story needs to end with how the main character will solve the conflict, then doesn’t this get people talking about your organization’s potential “future state” (aka vision) but also possible solutions (aka goals and strategies)?
I believe it does, and we’ll get a little closer to the truth at the future board meetings.
storytelling dvdI’m not trying to sell Chris Davenport’s products today, but if you haven’t checked out his storytelling DVD and collateral materials you may want to do so. Click here to learn more about his DVD product. Click here to learn more about a very useful brochure that can accompany the DVD or be used as a standalone resource. Click here to learn more about his free field guide and journal.
Again, I will not profit from any of this. I do not have a business relationship with Chris other than the fact that I’m a customer and purchase resources from him. OK, OK, OK . . . I guess I am smitten with this work and have found his stuff useful in my some of my consulting projects. Regardless, I won’t see a penny of anything you decide to purchase anything from him.
Does your organization do any storytelling? Please scroll down and use the comment box to share how you employ the power of storytelling? What have been the results? Has it changed anything in your organization (e.g. are board members better fundraisers now, is your planning process more dynamic and engaging, have you used storytelling to enhance your board governance and board meetings, etc)?
We can call learn from each other. Please take a moment to share.
Here’s to your health!
Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

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