One of the most inspiring aspects of working in philanthropy is the opportunity to hear powerful stories from so many different organizations—stories of transformed lives, revitalized neighborhoods, and game-changing partnerships with business and government.
Occasionally, these narratives leap off the pages of grant applications, or are showcased on websites and social media—brilliantly conveying the power and impact of community organizations. More often, though, they are harder to find.
Through our partnerships with hundreds of nonprofits throughout the region, we’ve learned that effective storytelling is one of the biggest challenges facing the organizations the Meyer Foundation supports. Many of these small, community-based groups lack the human and financial resources needed to tell their stories. And investments in communications often take a back seat to more pressing community and organizational needs.
To better understand these challenges and how they could be addressed, in 2013 we began a partnership with the Center for Social Impact Communications, an academic center within Georgetown University’s Division of Professional Communication dedicated to helping communications professionals use their skills for positive social impact. Our work together included a survey of grantees, a review of their current storytelling practices, and a series of workshops for executive directors and key staff.
Today, the Meyer Foundation and the Center for Social Impact Communication released “Stories Worth Telling: A Guide to Strategic and Sustainable Nonprofit Storytelling,” a publication that represents the culmination of this initiative. This resource pulls together what we learned through surveys, research, and the workshop series to help small nonprofits understand the basics of storytelling and how to create systems within their organizations that will produce better stories. We owe a special thanks to Denise Keyes and Julie Dixon at the Center for Social Impact Communications for their initial vision and for their thoughtful approach to this project, and to the skilled graduate students whose passion for social change helped drive the work.
While we hope that this guide will be a useful resource for nonprofit leaders and their organizations, we understand that a single publication—no matter how practical or comprehensive—won’t by itself transform the storytelling practices of thousands of organizations. We also understand that effective storytelling requires talent, time, and money. In the coming months, we plan to continue the conversation about how the Meyer Foundation and other partners can ensure that nonprofits in our region have the tools and resources they need to tell their stories.
The stakes, after all, are high. Powerful stories can motivate volunteers, engage business leaders, galvanize public officials, and inspire donors. In a media landscape that grows noisier and more fragmented by the hour, everyone in our region needs to understand the life-changing and transformational work that nonprofits do every day.
Their stories are indeed worth telling. And we believe they must be told.