1. Stories are not fluffy, they are strategic!

    Yesterday I was at the CharityComms seminar on charity storytelling, and it was as inspiring and informative as their seminars always are (subtext: join, it’s great!). However, one of the things that I found slightly disheartening were questions related to the continuing idea that stories are fluffy and in particular one around justifying cost to the Finance Director. I am not saying that this misconception doesn’t exist or that the question shouldn’t have been asked, but as storytellers and communicators it seems many of us still have some way to go in proving our worth.

    Coincidentally, the previous day The Story Network had met and the subject for discussion this time around had been how to become better at strategic storytelling. If we can more clearly join the dots between objectives and impact, and how the stories we tell are communicating this impact and helping to deliver more resource, then we are better able to justify the investment.

    The Story Network is aimed at those working in charities who are responsible for gathering and managing stories for use by teams across the organisation, but some of what we discuss can be usefully applied by those who gather stories for their own use rather than a central resource (although we always advocate having a central resource!). Some of the key points that came out of this week’s meeting were:

    • Audit and needs analysis: identify all the stakeholders. Who is using stories and what stories work for their audiences? Are the ones you are currently sourcing meeting the needs of the organisation?
    • Map needs and plan ahead: create calendars and timelines for when big fundraising and engagement campaigns are happening and when your charity is doing its impact reporting so you can plan ahead and source the best stories – not the one that’s available with 24 hours notice!
    • Align stories to objectives: there are hundreds of inspiring and uplifting stories about the achievements of disabled people but if their achievements are in sport when your work in in tackling hate crime, then it’s not a strategic story for you. An overly simple example, and one that needs to be adjusted to your cause, but the point is don’t just tell good stories, tell good stories that you are part of.
    • Create a process: encourage colleagues to think about what stories they need at the beginning of their campaign planning, not halfway through. Create a briefing process, research a number of options and involve them in selection. Help them understand the effort that goes into finding the spine-tinglers.
    • Reuse and recycle: if you have found a corker then think about all the ways you can use it – reuse photography shot for an appeal in the annual review, get updates from beneficiaries after three and six months so your supporters share the journey, use the confident chatty ones as ambassadors in meetings and press work.
    • Monitor your own impact: the job isn’t done when you provide your internal client with the story they need. Follow up. Find out how much money was raised, what press coverage was achieved or what policies have changed as a result of campaigning activity. Gather the evidence you need to demonstrate what impact stories made in delivering objectives so you can continue to make the case for investment.

    If you are a story manager and would like to join The Story Network, get in touch.

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