Some nonprofits seem to expect stories to appear unbidden. As if emotionally powerful stories about your nonprofit’s real-world impact are just waiting on the sidelines, ready for you to call them onto the field.

It turns out they could be—if you use a storybank.

The state of nonprofit storytelling

It’s all too common for nonprofits to turn their attention to stories only when they’re needed for a grant application, a newsletter, an event, or an annual report. The result can be a mad scramble to come up with something, anything that can be turned into a story.

The stories told under those circumstances may not be the ones most worth telling, as the best stories can be left undiscovered during the last-minute rush. Or, the stories may lack oomph, their potency diminished by too little time and attention put toward telling the stories well.

You want to do storytelling better than this. I know it.

Storytelling done better

Let’s assume you know why you’re telling stories, who you want to inspire or move to action, what would make them care, where they are willing to consume stories, and how you’ll create those stories. (If you don’t, step away from the tool question and start here.)

For your audiences to connect deeply with your cause and your work, you’ve got to put consistent effort into quality storytelling. That means ditching the sporadic approach, and instead constantly collecting and vetting ideas that you can eventually turn into full-on stories.

Those story ideas first need to find their way to you from the people you serve. Then, the ideas need somewhere to be stored, lest they be forgotten. Once you create stories, you need a place to easily access them so you can keep putting their emotional power out into the world.

In sum, your stories—and the ideas that inspire them—need a home. A storybank is what makes strategic, effective storytelling possible. It’s the home your stories need.

Here’s how you can build a storybank system for your nonprofit:

1. Understand what you need in a storybank

A storybank is more than a tool. A storybank is actually a strategic system for collecting, vetting, storing, and sharing your nonprofit’s stories, including the raw materials they’re based on. A storybank is implemented using a set of closely managed tactics, techniques, and tools.

As you plan your storybank, remember that stories and the materials you use to make them can come in many formats. That might include writing, photos, audio, video, GIFs, testimonials, tangible items, charts, data, poetry, songs, art, and interactive formats. Your storybank tools will need to accommodate all your stories and materials, whatever their form.

I need to put my foot down about something. Whatever storybank tools you choose, they must be shareable and searchable. A bunch of files hoarded on one computer or scattered across your organization’s intranet is likely to create barriers that put your storytelling at risk. Your storybank should increase other people’s access to stories, not create disarray.

Get it done: Plan out your storybank system, step by step. In your plan, include:

  • where and how you’ll collect stories
  • tools and training people need to collect stories
  • formats you’ll organize and store
  • searchable data that can help people find your stories
  • your story vetting process
  • where and how you’ll share stories with external audiences

2. Choose the tools you need to collect and store stories

You might use one tool to manage your stories internally, or you might deploy a set of tools. There’s no one tool, no one right way. What works best will depend on your organizational culture, your staff’s comfort with technology, the other tools and systems you already use, and your organization’s storytelling process.

Here are some tools to consider:

Tools for collecting stories

  • interviews
  • audio and/or video recording
  • a website form
  • surveys and focus groups
  • social media
  • art projects, games, and other crowdsourcing techniques

Tools for organizing ideas and stories

Get it done: The best storybank tools will be the ones that people will use. So, first consider the tools your nonprofit already has in place for document sharing, CRM, editorial calendar, program planning, or measurement and reporting. Consider if it’s possible and practical for your storybank to exist in one or more of those tools. If none will work, create a budget and plan for building something new.

3. Identify how you’ll share your stories externally

Beyond serving your internal needs, you might deploy part of your storybank as the place where people go to discover your stories. Above all else, the tools you use to share your stories externally should be ones your audiences will actually use. Put your stories out into the world where your audiences already are.

Here are some tools to consider:

Tools for sharing stories externally

Get it done: For the best results, integrate your storytelling efforts with your communications strategy. Determine what organizational goals your stories can support. Decide which of your audiences need to hear your stories. In particular, consider current and potential donors, grantmakers, volunteers, elected officials and legislators, community advocates, and journalists and bloggers. To pick the right tool, you’ll want to consider how and where you’ll deliver stories to meet each audiences’ particular needs.

Now, get to it

A storybank should only be as complicated as you need it to be. When in doubt, start simple and add more complexity later. Your storybank should help your nonprofit pivot from reactive storytelling to a proactive storytelling culture. Ultimately, what matters is for your nonprofit to become better at identifying emotionally powerful stories.

Lauren Girardin

Lauren Girardin

Marketing and Communications Strategist at Lauren Girardin Consulting
Lauren Girardin uses her creative chutzpah to help nonprofits engage their communities and tell their stories. She shows organizations how to experiment bravely in their social media, blogging, content marketing, web content, brand messaging, and other digital and traditional communications. She counts Caravan Studios, the David & Lucile Packard Foundation, Essential Access Health (formerly California Family Health Council), GovLoop, NEOGOV, Points of Light, Rebuilding Together, TechSoup, TeenSource, and YTH among her clients. Reach her at lg@laurengirardin.com.
Lauren Girardin