Once Upon A Time

The Help-Files: The Truth Is Here 

Vol02: Iss04 – Once Upon A Time

Stories – everyone loves a good one. Sad or uplifting, full of hardships or hopeful, a good story captures our hearts and imaginations. We are defined by the stories we experience and inspired often by the stories we hear. So, while Serve the City projects may seem to be all about “doing,” at their core they are about relationships, about making a connection with another person. And everyone knows that at the heart of every good story is a relationship. 

For Serve the City, sometimes it is the relationship between a volunteer and someone they are serving, and sometimes it is the relationship between one volunteer and another. We mostly know people by what they do, not who they are; we know them by their needs, not by their name. Serve the City believes strongly in the value of relationships. Sure, we measure how many volunteer hours we put in each year and how many projects we do, but we are more interested in the number of lives we touch when we take the time to listen to the people we serve and understand their story. 

So, why all this talk about how Serve the City is all about stories and relationships? Because while volunteer hours and the number of projects are important measurements, it is the relationships that keep volunteers coming back and it is the stories that engage our supporters and donors. Learning how to gather and tell good stories about our volunteers and those we serve is as important as learning how to organize a Big Volunteer Week.  

How, you may ask, do you get these stories that will help you recruit and retain volunteers or raise the funds for your projects. It starts by asking questions and then really listening to the answers.  Wilton Blake, a storytelling consultant and curator for Storytelling for Nonprofits at scoop.it, breaks it down into 5 easy steps:   

Step 1: Identify. 

Storytelling is always about the audience, which you must clearly identify. It may include current stakeholders, or the people and organizations you want to transform into stakeholders. Focusing on your Big Story, seek out stories that will resonate with the target audience. 

Step 2: Collect. 

Develop a storytelling and story-gathering culture within your organization: encourage all your people to ask questions, listen closely, and get contact information for follow-up questions. Make sure they know what details are important to record. Collect as many stories as you can that demonstrate your impact on your clients, your community, your city, or the world. 

Step 3: Organize. 

Create a story bank. Collected stories have little value if they can’t be easily searched, selected, and developed. Use whatever technology your budget will allow. (You can keep track of all the major details with a simple spreadsheet in Excel or Google Docs.) 

Step 4: Develop. 

The entries in your story bank will need work. If your nonprofit serves clients directly, you will find undeveloped stories about how one of your programs helped a specific client—a transcription of some on-the-spot testimony, for example, or the results of a beneficiary survey. Someone in your organization, or an outside consultant, must take that raw material and package it for easy sharing—turning a testimony into a profile with some follow-up questions, or a survey answer into a results snapshot with a relevant photo. 

Step 5: Lead. 

Wherever you share your story, remember that it’s not just social networking—it’s serious marketing. Each time you share a story, it must lead your audience to your organization’s website, front door, or bank account. The nonprofit that tells the best story succeeds. That’s how you spark genuine passion in your audience and motivate them to make your nonprofit organization a part of their personal story. 

Once you have the stories that will engage people at a heart level (and hopefully some great pictures to go along with them to increase the impact), what do you do with them?  A lot depends on who you are trying to reach and how you are trying to reach them.  Your current volunteers and supporters/donors probably keep up with your website articles*, newsletter, and social media posts.  New volunteers will likely engage first through social media and other advertisements while prospective supporters/donors will probably be reached through group presentations or annual reports.   

Of course, the same story can be used for all these purposes but the length will depend on how it’s being presented and the tone may change depending on the intended audience. Will every story have a life-changing impact or bring in that really big donor? Probably not, especially at first. But the great thing about these stories, because they are based on relationships, is that there is always another chapter to write and another chance to for the story to resonate with someone. So, what stories are in the making for your city in the coming year?  

*Shameless plug: the STCi developed website template, available to all cities, is a great way to begin creating your online storytelling presence and much more. See the very first issue of The Help Files for details (www.servethecity.net/2020/05/14/why-your-city-needs-the-stci-website-template/) 

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