1. Why you should be thinking about storytellers, not stories

    One of our pet hates at Mile 91 is people talking about case studies. It’s cold and clinical and takes away the human experience. We encourage all our clients to talk stories, not case studies. But Scope has taken it one step further and is ruling out stories in favour of storytellers.

    Yesterday Sarah and Nick from the Scope stories team joined us at the Story Network to talk about the work they have done to set up Scope’s story gathering function. By subtly shifting the language they are encouraging their colleagues to think about a person, not a story; to see an individual, not a product. Part of this is about finding ways to manage the number of requests sent to those individuals who have particularly compelling stories or are particularly charismatic.

    When charities find a real star storyteller there is often huge pressure on that individual’s time while they are ‘flavour of the month’. With workloads and deadlines what they are it is easy to forget the human behind the story and not give proper consideration to the impact retelling a story again and again may have on someone’s time or emotions.

    Also, people’s stories evolve and change with time – their experiences of an illness, a disability, poverty, injustice etc., are not over with the final flourish of the copywriter’s pen or the surge of music at the end of a film. A finished story can lock someone’s experience in time, but thinking of the storyteller, a person, ahead of a neatly finished product can save us from these pitfalls. We keep our empathy.

    Sarah and Nick shared so much useful insight that it’s impossible to fit it all into one post. They and their colleague Victoria have achieved so much in just three years and they have taken the function from a place where there was a general mood of mistrust about story gathering processes and use of stories to a place where there are 150 stories in the library and a regular flow of story leads from the teams on the ground. Much of this was due to investing a good six months in building internal relationships and developing systems and processes before the story gathering began. Powerful storytelling is as much about the relationships you have with the colleagues who have day-to-day contact with the storytellers and developing their skills as it is your own ability to tell a story well.

    Top tips from them included:

    • Don’t hide behind requests on a group email. Meet services teams face to face and reassure them you have the best interests of the storyteller at heart.
    • Train your colleagues in what makes a good story. They will be more likely to send you good ideas and it’ll reduce the time you need to spend explaining why things aren’t being used.
    • Always provide feedback and thank both the storyteller and the services team. Share copies of media coverage or tell them how much an appeal raised.
    • Be a gatekeeper between the storyteller and the rest of the organisation. Field requests and relationship manage them with the same care all ambassadors receive. Treat them like a VIP.
    • Work with senior managers and HR to find ways to build targets on story gathering into job descriptions and personal objectives; encourage everyone to see themselves as story gatherers.

    If you work at a charity and are responsible for story gathering then the Story Network might interest you. If you would like support or guidance in setting up your own stories team then get in touch.  

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