Fri, September 20 2013

Strengthen your organization with a sacred story

Caryn Stein's avatar

Director of Content Strategy, Network for Good

Filed under:   Nonprofit leadership •

We often talk about the way stories bring your mission to life for supporters and inspire donors to give. Storytelling champion Andy Goodman reminds us that stories can also work within our organizations to inspire and build stronger teams. In a recent Q&A with The Bridgespan Group, Goodman shares Why Nonprofits Need to Be Storytellers and offers three types of stories that can strengthen your cause from the inside.

Creation stories
Simply put, these are the stories that tell the story of how and why your organization was founded. Creation stories often involve someone overcoming adversity, a vision for a different future, or transformation. These stories help root people in the culture of your nonprofit, motivate staff, and set expectations for your ongoing work.

Andy says: If you work for an organization, you should be able to answer the question, “Where did this organization come from? Who started it? When? Why?”


Value stories
These stories illustrate the key qualities of your organization, what you stand for, and why you’re so passionate about what you do. Many organizations may have similar core values—justice, determination, diversity—but the way these values are expressed should be unique to each group. These values become tangible when they’re illustrated through storytelling. Value stories help your staff and volunteers identify with your organization on a personal level, and provide a common ground that can improve collaboration among co-workers and increase loyalty to your cause.

Andy says: What I ask organizations is, “Tell me stories of your people living and expressing those values in their work.” Have these stories ready so that when people ask you about your organization’s values, you can respond not with a list, but with stories.


Striving to improve stories
These stories reinforce the resiliency of your organization and show that you’re evolving and improving. Telling stories about a mistake or other lessons learned helps others benefit from your shared knowledge and fosters an environment of exploration, acceptance, and camaraderie.

Andy says: I think [striving to improve stories] are extremely healthy to have, because invariably when someone does screw up, you want to be able to throw your arm around his or her shoulder and say, “You know what? It happens. Carole made a similar mistake. Let me tell you the story about the mistake she made, how she learned from it, and how she did better next time because that’s how we do it here.”


The whole interview is full of a-ha moments and worth a careful read. Check it out, then post a comment below to share an example of a story you’re telling in your organization. I’ll select a few of the best ones to feature in an upcoming post.

(Thanks to Mark Rovner of Sea Change Strategies for alerting us to this fabulous piece.)

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