Investing time now in building your storybank can ensure your people will always find the right story when they need it.
When good causes realize that storytelling can enhance advocacy, fundraising, recruitment and just about everything they do, they start looking for stories everywhere. Staff retreats are held exclusively to collect stories. Board members and volunteers are interviewed to mine their experiences. Web sites are updated with "Tell Us Your Story" pages where members and others can post their anecdotes.
Collectively, these processes can yield dozens (if not hundreds) of stories, which presents an entirely new challenge: once you've got 'em, where do you put 'em? The answer is a storybank, which can take many forms but generally serves one purpose: to provide a central repository where you can easily and quickly find a story that enlivens whatever point you want to make.
We asked readers for best practices in storybanking so we could share them here. Many responded and we built on this feedback with new research of our own. The lessons learned are below, and through it all one message kept coming back loud and clear. If you're serious about storytelling, get serious about building your own storybank. Stories can be a powerful tool, but they can't help you if you can't find them when you need them.
Building it doesn't have to be complicated or costly.
If you haven't started a storybank due to concerns over technical hurdles or huge start-up costs, stop worrying and start building. Some of the organizations that responded to our request had their IT departments whip up a simple proprietary database. Others got a little fancier - with built-in content management, online collection tools, and cross-referencing with photos - but one respondent simply set up a single folder (containing categorized subfolders) on her company's intranet while another started with just an Excel spreadsheet.
Two of the best articles about building a storybank and collecting stories come from FamiliesUSA. Although the organization focuses on health care issues, its tips are applicable for any good cause actively soliciting stories. "The Art of Story Banking" [PDF below] and "The Story Bank: Using Personal Stories as an Effective Way to Get Your Message Out" [PDF below] both offer clear step-by-step guides to help you get started.
Collecting stories can also be simple and cheap.
Some organizations solicit stories by advertising in internal newsletters and mailing lists. Others send out postcards advertising the URL of their online story bank where individuals could post their own stories. Brandon Seng of the Michigan Nonprofit Association strongly endorses the online approach since it eliminates faxing, transcribing, and other time-intensive activities.
The Literacy Volunteers of Tucson used SurveyMonkey to collect information about the quality of their services from volunteers, tutors and students. The survey included some open-ended questions (e.g., "What can you do now that you couldn't do before?") and many respondents filled in these boxes with personal success stories.
Cathy Beaumont of the University of British Columbia's development office combs through various publications produced by the school and staff and tells us, "There's no shortage of material." On average, she finds two new stories per month to add to UBC's online story bank.
As part of her job as a communications officer at PATH, Teresa Guillien actually goes into the field for two weeks every year and produces six or seven stories per trip. She is accompanied by a consultant (a former NBC journalist), a videographer and a photographer and travels to various countries to interview people face to face.
It's not just about fundraising.
Most organizations assume that stories support development, which is true, but we heard from many who were using stories in a variety of ways:
The University of British Columbia uses stories to demonstrate to donors the school's diversity. The Michigan Nonprofit Association uses stories to train staff and help them better understand the work of the organization. The Literacy Volunteers of Tucson uses them in volunteer recruitments and orientations "to give more humanity to the project," according to Lisa Kemper.
Jim Gangl from St. Louis County Public Health & Human Services told us his organization consisted of employees at the end of long careers mixed with younger ones just starting out. "Because there isn't much in the middle," he said, "we need stories to convey our experience."
And just this week we heard from an aquarium that was looking to tell stories on the labels of exhibits to create a more engaging experience for visitors. You may find entirely new ways to use stories, but first you have to find the stories and keep them in a safe, easily accessible place. So build your storybank and watch it build more interest in everything you do.
To see a sampling of online storybanks:
To see how organizations collect stories online:
(Thanks to Cathy Beaumont, Jim Gangl, Teresa Guillien, Lisa Kemper, and Brandon Seng for their assistance in writing this story.)
About Andy Goodman
Andy Goodman is a nationally recognized author, speaker and consultant in the field of public interest communications. Along with Storytelling as Best Practice, he is author of Why Bad Ads Happen to Good Causes and Why Bad Presentations Happen to Good Causes. He also publishes a monthly journal, free-range thinking, to share best practices in the field.
Andy is best known for his speeches and workshops on storytelling, presenting, design and strategic communications, and has been invited to speak at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, the Woodrow Wilson School of Public Affairs at Princeton, as well as at major foundation and nonprofit conferences. He currently serves on the faculty of the Communications Leadership Institute, which trains nonprofit executive directors and grantmakers.
In 2007, Al Gore selected Andy to train one thousand volunteers who are currently helping the former Vice President engage more Americans in the fight against global warming. In 2008, Andy co-founded The Goodman Center to offer online versions of his workshops and additional communications and marketing classes to nonprofits, foundations, government agencies and educational institutions across the U.S. and worldwide. When not teaching, traveling, or recovering from teaching and traveling, Andy also serves as a Senior Fellow for Civic Ventures and is on the advisory boards of VolunteerMatch and Great Nonprofits.
For more information, visit: www.agoodmanonline.com