A decade ago, our nonprofit’s very small communications team embarked on the journey to actively write a blog and participate in social media. We weren’t sure if we would have enough content but we committed to starting out by listening, interacting, and contributing when possible. Fast forward to 2019 and we now have an active social media community and often have a waitlist to publish on our blog.
It took years of building relationships within our agency to help people understand the value of sharing stories about the interactions they have with the youth we serve. But building those relationships was well worth the effort because we now have champions and writers from our program team that understand why sharing stories is so impactful for our supporters and donors.
Here is how we built those relationships and found our storytelling champions:
1. Make it easy
When we first invited program staff to share their stories and experiences, we tried to make it as easy as possible for them to help us. We invited them to leave voicemails, share in person, write email dot points – whatever paved the way for them to share their experiences.
2. Professional writing is not required
We told our contributors they did not have to be perfect writers or have a complete story. This took some of the pressure off, so they could focus on telling us what happened and let us handle the grammar!
3. Build trust in the way you work
We work with at-risk and homeless youth so we take seriously the privacy and confidentiality of our youth. It was important for our program staff to know we would only be sharing stories in a way that protected our youth and did not identify them. We changed names, key facts and places to make sure stories we shared respected their confidentiality.
4. Reward their involvement
Each year we have a storytelling competition for our three core programs. During December, staff can contribute stories and have a chance to win Best Story as well as some fun prizes. Program staff already have a full-time job so asking more of them can be difficult. It helps to be able to offer a little something extra to encourage them to get involved.
5. Identify your champions
After a few years, we were able to identify program staff that were talented writers and those who loved sharing what they do. When you find excited people, be sure to reach out so they know how much you appreciate their time. These are your cheerleaders, the folks who will help others understand why sharing the day-to-day stories are so important.
6. Show your gratitude
Our development and communications team have a thank-you committee to give credit to departments that support our work. Even a simple card or note to someone can show them how much their stories mean.
It took years of hard work and building relationships to make staff understand how important it is for our donors to hear about the work we are doing and getting a glimpse into the lives of the youth we serve. This continues to be an ongoing process as our agency grows and changes and new people join us. Building relationships is worth the effort. The stories that come from our front line are featured in direct mail, email appeals, social media, and other donor communications.
I hope this helps you to build strong relationships with your program teams and find the storytelling champions within your nonprofit.