How to Create a Culture of Storytelling

Storytelling seems to be all the buzz lately and it’s very much intersecting with my professional work as a writer and a speaker. Recently I was invited to speak at the British Columbia Spinal Cord Injury Community Service Network on the basics of storytelling and was tasked with inspiring people from all different departments to become storytellers. Pretty lofty goal, right?

There’s no denying it, storytelling can seem challenging. But I’ve taken the stance that storytelling can be demystified and that anyone can do it. Emerging from my talk and discussions I was honored to be a part of, here are my five tips for creating a culture of storytelling at a non-profit organization.

  1. Decide at an organizational level what your priorities are for program development and fundraising, then create some strategic messaging around those priorities. Once those have been set, you can clearly communicate to all staff members what kind of stories you are looking for. This clarity is absolutely necessary when you are trying to achieve organizational buy-in. Everyone needs to understand where the train is heading. 
  2. Hold a staff meeting to openly discuss what storytelling is, why it matters and why all staff members play a vital role in it. This kind of forum and education can help breakdown any hesitations people might have about telling clients’ or donors’ stories.
  3. Make time at your staff meetings to tell stories. The work that people are doing at your non-profit is AMAZING! Allow yourselves to be inspired by it! The more you can internally practice this, the more it becomes an inherent part of your organization’s culture and therefore easier to exercise externally. 
  4. Find a time once per month (or there abouts) to casually meet with staff from programs to talk about updates from their work and utilize it as a time to probe into any interesting stories they might have. When you foster open, cross-departmental relationships, it becomes easier to embark on a larger project like organizational storytelling. Again, this point re-iterates the necessity of collaboration in fundraising and communications work. 
  5. Start your own story bank for future reference. As a fundraiser, I used to keep track of interesting stories I would hear from donors about their connection to the non-profit and would make a note of it in a word document. I can recall numerous times when I used stories from that list for newsletter stories and annual reports.

Leave a comment below and tell me what your non-profit does to inspire storytelling!


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