By Hannah Rael
How to Make Storytelling a Team Effort
While your development or communications team is responsible for telling your success stories, it is usually program staff who witness your organization’s best examples of positive impact. They are the ones directly connecting with the people, animals, or environment that benefit from the work. In essence, they are the benevolent gatekeepers to the stories that compel people to advocate, donate, and stay involved.
You are not alone if you find it difficult to extract these stories and be able to share them with your supporters. Program staff already have a big workload. Writing features, taking photos, and getting all the details are not their primary job and often fall to the bottom of the priority list as they work to meet their other strategic objectives. However, by making the effort to better collaborate, you can get past some of these challenges and help develop a culture of content communication at your organization. Here are seven tips on how to get started:
Develop a relationship
When you initially ask staff to help you gather stories, it’s best to meet with them face-to-face. Get to know them – why they care about the mission, why they love their job and what a typical work day looks like for them. When your colleagues know you are genuinely interested in their work and not trying to offload work onto them, they are more likely to want to help. Depending on your organization’s work, some stories may need to be communicated with sensitivity. Other staff need to trust you before they can trust you with these stories. Make sure you’ve built that kind of relationship before asking them to be your eyes and ears.
Explain how it benefits them
It’s easy to see how these stories help the communications team look good. But you need to communicate why the program staff benefit as well. A partner organization or corporate donor they work with regularly may appreciate the added visibility from highlighting them on your organization’s website. Or perhaps increased awareness of the need and donations generated from the compelling story will help grow the program.
Provide examples of good stories
You have likely had some training on the elements of a compelling story and what messages get donors to give. Your programs staff may not have had this same training. Provide them with a few good examples of features and photos that show the type of content you are looking for and what you hope to do with their information. These can be from your own organization or you can look to other local and national organizations for good examples.
Start here to look for examples of storytelling for program impact, volunteer and donor recognition:
Create a collection process
Decide who is the main point person on the intake process for these stories so that program staff know who they should communicate with if they have new ideas or are following up on a request. You may want to have staff fill out a template, give them access and instructions to upload information to a shared drive, and/or develop some general guidelines and documents they can work from. As you move forward with story collection, continue refining the process and asking for feedback on how it could be improved.
You can also announce a story collection campaign at a staff meeting. Explain why stories are important and create easy ways for staff to submit stories or story ideas.
Offer to do some of the leg work
You shouldn’t expect the staffer to do all the communications work for you. When they already feel overwhelmed and your time-intensive request is one more thing on their long list, this can result in you not getting any content.
Maybe the staffer is worried they won’t know what to ask when interviewing someone. Offer to provide them with questions. Maybe they don’t enjoy writing. Offer to sit down with them, take notes as they tell you the story, and then write it yourself, with their review. Maybe they don’t know how to use the camera. Offer to spend 15 minutes providing them basic training. Being willing to meet them halfway will help you get the elements you need.
- How to take a good photo: http://www.surfmedcom/how-to-take-a-good-photo
- Shoot high quality interviews on your iPhone: https://vimeo.com/71260139
Be clear in your expectations
The more specific you can be with what you are looking for, the more likely program staff will deliver the stories and content that you want. Do you need direct quotes? Do you want to make sure you get a story of a particular demographic to align with an upcoming campaign? Do you want photos with branding in the background? Do you need signed media releases from participants? Provide clear instructions ahead of time so they don’t feel lost. This also helps staffers prioritize their time.
Thank them and share results
Did the information they gave you lead to an article in the newspaper or a television segment? Did a donor tell you that they felt compelled to give after reading a story they helped write? Did one of their photos perform particularly well on social media? Did their blog post generate more traffic to the website than usual? Make sure to tell them. And don’t just tell them – give them a shout out in a staff meeting or staff email so they are recognized for their additional efforts. Acknowledging their contributions will lead to more stories coming your way in the future.