Building a Story Bank for Nonprofits

The Nonprofit Roundtable recently posted an awesome article by Families USA about building a story bank for nonprofits. It’s an awesome read, so I’m reposting it here!

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One of the most powerful tools to cut through the clutter in advocacy is to use personal stories to highlight an issue. Not only do stories “bring home” complex issues, they also paint a human picture of the impact of policy decisions.

You only need to read recent blogs by members of the Nonprofit Roundtable of Greater Washington to see examples of how stories can elevate the conversation around particular issues. familiesusa2(“Education Trust: Closing the Achievement Gap” and “Numbers Are Not the Whole Story” are two wonderful, recent examples.) By talking about their own experiences, the bloggers are able to step back from a policy or numbers-based discussion. As a result, the reader is left with a moving, memorable example of the issue at hand. Let’s face it, most of us aren’t going to remember the intricate details of a policy decision, but we will remember a story about how that policy or program affected someone.

At Families USA, we use stories in much of our advocacy and communications work because we have seen firsthand the impact they can have. Rather than finding a new story for every need, we have spent the past two decades developing a story bank—a collection of stories that are ready to go at a moment’s notice.

Our story bank is filled with a variety of consumer experiences with the health care system, providing us not just with real-life examples, but also with people willing to share their experiences. We have staff dedicated to collecting story leads, interviewing consumers, and placing the stories in a variety of settings. Our consumers have appeared in traditional earned media, social media, blogs, events, and more.

Most recently, Families USA has embarked on campaigns to collect stories around particular issues ranging from the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to the Affordable Care Act. Our current campaign, My Coverage Story, is a robust, multi-faceted effort designed to highlight stories about successful enrollment in the health coverage new options. After stories have been submitted, they undergo an internal review process and are highlighted on the campaign’s website.

My Coverage Story uses best practices that we have learned in our years of story collection. Not every tactic may be appropriate for your story collection efforts; we have found it helpful to tailor activities to particular needs and the target population. The My Coverage Story effort includes the following strategies:

Online

  • Using a fresh, modern website dedicated to collecting stories
  • Sending regular emails to supporters asking them to share their experiences
  • Maintaining a drumbeat on social media channels, including Facebook and Twitter
  • Advertising on Google and Facebookfamiliesusa1

Partnerships

  • Working with key national and state partners to identify opportunities for collaboration in story collection and distribution
  • Helping bolster the efforts of organizations already doing this work Aiding organizations that are just beginning to story bank by helping them build infrastructure

Other

  • Collecting stories at in-person events focused on enrollment
  • Training our staff on how they can help us identify and collect new stories

While not every organization has the need to develop a full program around story banking, it is something that can also be implemented in smaller, more concentrated efforts or campaigns. If you are interested in building a story bank of your own, we have developed two pieces that provide more information on the how and why of story banking:

We are always looking for new organizations to work with on the My Coverage Story campaign and other story banking efforts. If you or your organization is interested, please send us an email at storybank@familiesusa.org.
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This post was contributed by Cate Bonacini, Families USA’s Story Bank Coordinator.

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