by Yvonne Hundshamer, Blue Grotto Inc.
When you want
to know more about someone, you wonder about his or her
“story” - family, tastes, talents, accomplishments.
Increasingly, foundations and other grant makers do the same when
evaluating a request from a nonprofit organization. Evaluators want to
know your story. It’s one reason most grant applications
require a narrative, encouraging you to give a detailed account of your
history, the population you serve, and how effectively you manage
organizations, the grant making process has itself become a form of
storytelling. It is used to communicate the core values of an
organization. Consider that your nonprofit competes against
dozens of other, worthy organizations for a shrinking pool of funds.
How can you distinguish yourself? And how do you grow your base of
support while maintaining close ties to your existing base of donors? In her new book Beyond
Fund Raising : New Strategies for Nonprofit Innovation and Investment
author Kay Sprinkel Grace gives a suggestion - “Donors must
be inspired by shared values, partnership, respect, and
is a powerful tool. More than flow charts or bullet points, stories
stick with people. Whether your goal is to reach one person, or to
stand out at a volunteer fair where hundreds of people will pass
through your booth, your story can introduce the
organization’s values and also give others the chance to both
rationally and emotionally connect with your work.
“The best way to (persuade people) is by telling a compelling story. In a story, you not only weave a lot of information into the telling but you also arouse your listener's emotions and energy.”
(From “Storytelling that Moves People, a Conversation with
Screenwriting Coach Robert McKee,” Harvard Business Review,
also promotes the shared vision that strengthens your relationships.
Anecdotes help an organization show who it is rather than simply tell
what it does. They take into account the organization’s
roots, the passion of its founders, and the philosophies that went into
building it. An organization’s mission and vision, where it
has been and where it is going are often best illustrated through a
The process of
chronicling your organization’s experiences, accomplishments,
people and memories enriches your key messages. It encourages you to
celebrate the past, capturing the elements that help make you
distinctive. Moreover, it articulates the values that have kept the
organization relevant in today’s competitive nonprofit
environment - providing much needed context for strategic planning.
organizations take advantage of the opportunity to tell their stories
in routine communications. Taking the time to tell your story in every
format - from newsletters and fundraising materials to advertising and
mission statements - helps you connect more closely with audiences.
This ensures that potential donors, volunteers, and community
representatives get to know you better, an important element of fund
What makes for a good story?
What kind of
stories can communicate the values that influence fund development
efforts? Each organization’s history is unique, but you
should work to effectively articulate items such as:
offers perspectives in a format that is both easily grasped and easily
repeated. Imagine how successful you can be when your key message can
be retold by staff, board members, volunteers and donors alike. The
Idaho Nonprofit Development Center (INDC) felt the topic was important
enough to offer a one and a half hour presentation at their annual
non-profit conference: Why Should People Give to You? Why
does your nonprofit do what it does? Why does it matter? If you want
others to give to your organization, all staff and volunteers need to
share the same values – and know how to express them.
And in articles on the topic of storytelling,
organizational development consultant and author
Eileen McDargh writes that “crafting compelling, honest
stories that resonate core values in action is a skill worth learning
by any leader, manager, sales executive or parent.”
organization approaches a milestone, celebrates success, plans for
transition or embarks on new initiatives, consider the stories that you
have to share. These stories have the power to inspire, excite and
support those vital to your organization’s purpose. In the
fiercely competitive and rapidly changing environment of philanthropy,
it is important to recount the values and successes of your
organization and use your own best practices
as a map for the future.
Yvonne Hundshamer is president of Blue Grotto Inc. (www.bluegrottoinc.com), a Minnesota business that works with organizations to document culture and values, celebrate milestones and articulate vision