Stories are the lifeblood of fundraising. Whether in letters, emails, the web or in-person, donors are motivated by the stories that prove your mission. But what kinds of stories work best? And how do you find them?

Advocace Vice President Jerry Grimes recently joined us for a webinar in which he answered these questions and more.

In case you missed it, you can watch the full replay here:

Full Transcript:

Steven: Are you ready to get started?

Jerry: I think we should. My computer decided right before this minute to reboot but it’s coming up right now.

Steven: Okay.

Jerry: We’ll go ahead. You go ahead. I know you are going to go first.

Steven: Yeah, but I got a few minutes. We will see when you get back in, okay?

Jerry: I think I am back in. You go right ahead.

Steven: Okay, cool. Good afternoon, everyone, if you are on the East Coast and Good morning, if you are on the West Coast or somewhere in between. Thanks for being here for today’s webinar, “Building a Storytelling Culture.” My name is Steven Shattuck and I am the VP of Marketing here at Bloomerang. I will be moderating today’s discussion. Thanks for being here.

Before I begin, I want to do a couple of housekeeping items. First thing I wanted to let you know that we recording this presentation. I will be sending out the recording a little later on this afternoon as well as our slides from today. If you have to leave early or if you’re thinking you want to share the presentation with a friend or a co-worker, you will be able to do that. You’ll be able to relive all the content as much as you want. Just look for an email from me a little later on this afternoon.

As you’re listening live today please feel free to send in your questions or comments our way through the chat box there. I will see those, Jerry will see those, and we are going to save some time at the end for a formal Q&A session. Don’t be shy at all. We always like for people to chat in, even for people to talk to each other. That’s how it is fun to see. Please do that if that’s something that you are into.

If this is your first webinar with us, welcome. Thanks for being here. We do, do these educational webinars every Thursday. We have got a great line up coming up for the month of April. We are actually going to take next Thursday off for the big conference in Baltimore with AFP. We’ll be back with four presentations in April.

In addition to the webinars that we do, we also offer some donor management software. That’s what Bloomerang is. That’s what our company does. If you are on the market for software, we’d love for you to check that out. You can take a peek at a video demo. You can download some other resources. If you’re interested in that, please do visit our website. That will make us very happy. That’s the short sales pitch.
I’ll move right one to introducing our guest. He is Jerry Grimes. Jerry, thanks for being here.

Jerry: I am excited about it. Thank you for having me.

Steven: Yeah. I’m excited to have you. I feel like we’ve had this on the calendar a while. It’s good that we’re finally here.

Jerry: Absolutely.

Steven: For those of you who don’t know Jerry. Jerry, he is Vice President of Advocace which is one of Americas fastest growing fundraising consultancies. He travels a crazy amount, over 100 days a year speaking, coaching, training and helping nonprofits develop sustainable income from donors. He writes a great blog called The Development Evangelist. We will definitely link to that. You should check that out.

Jerry, you’ve quite a really cool career. You were a local NBC Executive for 20 years, you have been a Pastor, you have been an Executive Director, you’ve done fundraising for Universities for other nonprofits. You have got a Master’s degree in Leadership, Evangelism and Discipleship from Columbia Biblical Seminary.

Man, this is a so awesome to have you.

Jerry: Thank you.

Steven: I know you’re going to share a lot of great information with us.

Jerry: Appreciate it.

Steven: You’ve got a CFRE obviously. I am going to stop talking because people want to hear from you not me. Jerry, I am going to hand it over to you my friend.

Jerry: Thank you. I appreciate it, Steven. For those of you that are with us that are not with the faith based nonprofit, I hope that my background and the way that we practice, our work in our firm, isn’t in any way limiting you. Because I think what we are going to share today is applicable to anyone that’s raising funds, even if you’re not in a faith-based nonprofits. I will confine my talks to my comments to the general market, if you will.

But we are going to talk today about storytelling. It’s something we all do. It’s something we all think we know how to do. What I have discovered is that there are some things that you can do with more intentionality and more focus to do it better. When we’ve done these things with our clients, our clients have seen sizable increases in gifts from the major gifts donors and also from their annual fund donors as well. I really want to focus on that today with you and certainly answer any questions that you have. Tell you a little bit about what we’ve learned and what we’ve applied in our work with our clients that seems to be working.

Storytelling it’s one of the things like I said you know how to do it. You probably are already doing it. The thing is it’s something we could all do a little bit better. When it works it really works, right? If you’re sitting in front of a donor and you tell the right person the right story that connects with their heart and helps him better understand your mission, your vision and what it is your organization does, there’s just nothing better. It’s better than them a year’s worth of newsletters or having them take a tour or giving them some gifts. It’s the way to connect with our donors.

We’re always writing these newsletters and speaking in newsletters and website articles and emails and we need great content for those things. We need stories about people whose lives have been impacted by the work that we do and they are hard to come by, aren’t they? Don’t you get tired when it’s time to write another newsletter article or write a solicitation going through all of your emails and your Facebook trying to find somebody who had something nice to say about you? Then putting that into a paragraph and writing it.

Sometimes you have missing details. Right? You don’t always know why that person or how is connected with you or why they like you so much and how it came to be that they were transformed in some cases by the work that you do. And there just hang nails with a lot of those things.

What I want to teach today is the idea of building a storytelling culture. That is an organization that defines stories as being so important that we treat them like money. We are all involved. Everybody from the volunteers to the front desk person, certainly the fundraising staff and the programming people all the way up to the executive director the president of the organization, we are all involved in collecting and archiving these stories and they’re a shared resource for all of us.

We use stories inside a storytelling culture to advance our mission internally. Even on the programming side, the people that are doing the work that we’re called to do, whatever that is, those folks are using storytelling to build each other up and to share and advance their work. So it’s part of who we are. It’s part of the fabric of who we are. When you produce a storytelling culture what happens is you begin to value stories and they begin to be easier to come by and you start to archive them in a way they make sense. The most important thing is you know what a good story is so all of the elements of it are captured in your system.

What does that sound like? Sounds like a pretty good idea? We’ll get started today and just kind of go through that. One thing that you should know about storytelling though is it’s really popular. There have been all kinds of articles in magazines like Fast Company, Businessweek, and other organizations that are publishing for the general market about how powerful storytelling is. It’s something that Fortune 500 companies are investing in training. Teaching their teams how to tell good stories.

It’s driving the Internet. The Web 2.0 right now where it’s not just make out a static webpage. We want to interact with each other. We have a Twitter feed right there on our webpage. We want to hear as consumers when we’re buying everything from service to a card or refrigerator, we want to interact with your stories so that other people have used those same products. We want to hear about that. Storytelling is driving marketing now. It’s so helpful in social media space. That’s why it’s so important especially for us in the nonprofit world.

You can go to seminars. I know, a good friend of Bloomerang and somebody that I follow and read all of his books and really like Tommy Hearn does a great storytelling seminar that goes on for a day and a half or so. He has great information. I have not had the privilege of going but you could pay Tom and go to that. I understand it’s really great. There are other seminars out there too. There are events that you can go to at all of the major . . . You mentioned AFP, Steven. I don’t know if there’s a specific storytelling aspect to that this year, but there usually is.

You can also even get a degree believe it or not in storytelling. If you are in fundraising, chances are your degree is not in anything to do with fundraising. That’s just one of the things that’s true about us as fundraising people. But if you want another degree, you can go get one in storytelling.

This guy is one of the leading experts in storytelling. I love how he defines what a story is. This definition really stuck with me and maybe it will you too. He said, “Stories are the creative conversion of life itself into a more powerful, clearer, more meaningful experience. They are the currency of human contact.” The currency of human contact. Stories when you think about it are how we relate to each other.

What happened this morning when you came in to the office? You probably have co-workers and probably interacted with them and they said something like, “Well, how was a meeting this evening?” or “How did that meeting go?” Then stories start to take place. Monday morning, “How was your weekend?” What people are looking for to interact with each other, to extend some of that currency with one another is a story. They want to know what happened that weekend that will be entertaining and interesting to them. Because the human mind, the human heart it is shaped to want to hear stories. That’s just how it is.

The other thing about this McKee quote that really interests me is he says that it’s not life itself but it’s the conversion of life itself into a more powerful, clearer and more meaningful experience. It made me think of something, maybe this is a weird analogy, but it made me think of the difference between some strawberries and strawberry jam. The strawberry jam, they are not really strawberries. It’s the distilled sweetened condensed version of strawberries in essence in strawberry jam.

I know it is kind of the lunch hour and maybe I am making some people hungry. I apologize for that. But that’s what I think stories are. I think they are a little sweeter, a little nicer. They still represent the truth. They still represent the real life itself. But they are condensed in pushed down a little bit and put in to a package that we can all receive when we want it open actually. I believe that stories should explain your mission and drive your mission in the context of your nonprofit. Stories can help people connect with what you do better than just about anything else. We talked about that already.

But stories also offer proof. Sometimes when you go see a donor, they want to know not only who you are and what you do, but they really want to know if they should believe what you say. One of the greatest ways to illustrate that is with a good story that makes the point. “Yeah, this is what we do and it’s getting results and here’s proof. Here’s somebody’s life that’s been changed or somebody who has been impacted by what we do,” or “Here’s the story.” They want to connect with that.

Also stories build trust. If stories are the currency of human contact and you come into my office a week and maybe have a new co-worker or somebody you don’t know that well. You start swapping stories with them and it builds trust. Same thing is true with our donors. Even when we are not talking about the mission of your organization if you see a family photo of their desk and you ask about it and they get to tell you about their son or their daughter or their grandchild, man, it means so much to them and it builds a relationship with them like probably nothing else. That’s one of the reasons why stories are so important is it builds trust.

Just taking a look here at some other things. We also want to talk about what a good story is. This is probably where the rubber meets the road and if you’re going to take some notes today, maybe this is what you should write down. A good story is different than a bad story. A good story is different than a non-story quote or just a fragment of an idea. A really good story has these elements. First of all, it’s real. I don’t want to call anybody out but have you ever made up a story to put in a newsletter or solicitation? If you have, you’re probably among the rest of us. Probably 90.99% of this as abhorrent as it seems has shaded or shaped the truth or even boldly made up a story in the act of fundraising. I know that’s terrible but I think we have all done it at one point or another, or we might do it if we don’t have a really good system for getting the stories that we need to do fundraising.

What is a good story? It’s real and here’s why that makes a good story. The sort of artifacts, little imprints, little fingerprints on the truth and when you hear a story that’s made up, it doesn’t have the same impact as a story that is truthful because of those things. We are wired to sniff out the truth, most of us are. And if we’re paying any kind of attention at all, even if a made up story sounds good, it really doesn’t have the same punch and we’ll sniff it out in a matter of time.

And then good stories are personal. All of us as human beings even those of us who are introverted are a little bit fascinated, no, actually a lot fascinated with the human animal. We are just enamored with ourselves. We can’t get over human beings. We are fascinated by them. Part of it is because we’re fascinated by ourselves. We want to know what you’re doing, what another person is doing. What their life is like because we’re constantly comparing ourselves to them, aren’t we? And we want to hear about our lives and their lives and how they are different or the same. That’s why the best stories are about people.

If you work with animals or things like that, that’s great. You can talk about your animals but eventually when it comes to raising money, you’re going to have to talk about people too. That’s very important. Good stories are personal even if you’re talking about animal. You may talk about one of them and what they did or how they behaved or that kind of thing because you’re going to make it very personal.

You also need a story to be relatable. One of the problems we have in fundraising is sometimes the work that we do as organizations. And certainly the aspect of our organizations that we do, that work involved in fundraising, is totally unlike and un-relatable to some people that we meet. Doctors and lawyers and business owners don’t really get fundraising. They don’t get what nonprofits do and there is sort of a little bit of mystery involved in that. In order to tell a story that’s effective, we have to make it relatable and we have to make it about something that they would understand and start with that connection and go from that point on in to our story.

They also have to be relevant. There has to be a reason we’re telling them the story. And when connect it with the donor with a great story, then if you think back, it started with a personal connection. You may have, as I said earlier, relate it to a photograph on a desk. I have got . . . of course I am going to do this. I have a picture of my grandson right here. That’s Jack Taylor. He and I are goofing around in this picture. But if you were to come into my office and ask me about that, I might start telling you a story about Jack. And then if you work with children, you might say, “Well, how old is Jack?” I would say, “Six.” You would say, “Well, let me tell you about a six-year-old boy that is in our organization. His name is Carson.” Then you would start telling me Carson’s story.

Because we built the story off of a personal connection and I have a six-year-old grandson and you’re telling me a story about a six-year-old child or a boy. There was a connection there so it’s relatable. That’s why a really good story is relatable. Can’t always make a personal connection but we can all relate to different walks of life that people are in. I am in my 50s so when you tell me a story about a child or a teenager or somebody in their 20s, 30s or 40s, I can instantly relate to it because I know what it’s like to be there. If you’re telling me a story about someone older, I’ve got relatives and friends like that. And you’re the same way. You can picture somebody in your mind that goes with that story. That’s a really great way to make it relevant.

Good stories are also illustrative. The very best stories even if they aren’t unaccompanied by a picture have pictures that are created in the mind. They conjure up images. They are descriptive without being overly descriptive in a way that helps you remember them and helps you should make that connection. If you went to school for literature or something like that, you might have seen, what I just put up here, a storytelling arc. What this is, is all literature, all movies, all stories kind of break down and follow this same pattern. It’s something when you study great works of literature you can figure out, “Oh my gosh, even though a told story is completely different than any way. It is completely different than another author, Jules Verne.” They all kind of have the same thing.

Even the stories in the Bible have this same kind of pattern to them. There was a situation that was flat and the same and had existed for a while. Then there was something that changed that, a trigger. Then a great hero went on a great quest usually, or there is some transitional thing that happened. There is always a surprise. Somebody makes a critical choice. There is reversal of the stasis. Then there is resolution.

I thought that, that was good and I have known about this pattern for a long time because I studied literature in college too. But this really nailed it for me. I sat down with some friends who are really good at storytelling. We worked on this together and this is the same thing, the storytelling arc, but for the purposes of fundraising. If you want a copy of this presentation, we’ll be happy to get it to you. This is something you might want to also write down. This is what you need to remember about stories when you are going to collect them and archive them for your organization.

You need a great character. And you need to spend some time when you’re interviewing people and hearing their story asking questions about them personally so that, that story can be personal and relatable and you can build the character of the person you’re telling a story about. If you’ve ever taken a quote and you just try to put it into a fundraising context like in the solicitation. The quote wasn’t all that great if you knew something about the person, if you could describe them, then it wouldn’t make the quote better.

That’s why character is so important. We in the other arc we had the word “stasis”. I think if you talk about the way things were before and then if you move right in to a point of discovery. How the person found your agency or you’re nonprofit and received help in some way, at that point of discovery, that always an important point. It’s usually oftentimes left out.

Now we describe the “after” and the “now”. We are contrasting between the “before” and the “now”. Then because it’s fundraising, we make the connection between the story we’re telling and the mission of our organization and then we make an invitation

[SP]. An invitation is simply worth an “ask”. An “ask” doesn’t have to be money sometimes it could be, “Would you like to help more people like this?” It could be money or, “Could I send you more information about this?” or something on this lines but we make an “ask”? That really is what invitation is.

That’s the simplified storytelling arc. I hope that you will maybe look at using this as you build out your storytelling culture. What I would love for you to do is before the session today, we sent you a PDF. It’s a storytelling form. I would love for you to print that out and take a story that has been floating around your nonprofit for a while and put it into this context. You would have character, before, discovery, after, mission, and invitation. All those things are on the storytelling form that we’ve sent you.

If you didn’t get one, just let us know here Steven or myself and we’ll make sure you get one. Normally when I do these training for groups if you’re interested, I’d love to come to your nonprofit and do this. I am available for that kind of assignment. If I come to your organization do training like this, we have everybody. We have the executive director, the volunteers, we’d love to have board members there because good stories come from everywhere. We actually pass out these storytelling forms and we write out a story. Takes about half an hour, maybe 20 minutes to half an hour to work that out. Then we go around the room and share select stories. I want you to write your own story. Could be a personal story or a story that you’ve used before or choose a story to work with and use the storytelling guide and get comfortable with the format. See if it works for you and see how you can maybe build up a system around it.

What is the storytelling culture? What are we trying to accomplish here with all of these? This is it right here. We’re trying to build a storytelling culture. That’s a culture that values stories like money. I am going to pick a name here, hope I am not embarrassing anybody, but I see somebody here named Dayna Carmen [SP]. Dayna, if you were to come into your office early in the morning before everybody else gets there, which is probably what you do all the time anyway, because I am sure you’re very hardworking and you pull out your desk chair. Maybe this has happened to you, maybe it’s not. But it’s happened to me a lot.

Pull out your desk chair and right on that desk chair is a check for $1,000. What has happened is somebody wanted to give this money to the organization, they wrote out their check, they came by our office when we were closed, and they literally put it in the mail slot or slid it under the door. The cleaning people found it and didn’t know whose desk to put in on, so they put it on your desk, Dayna. You pull out your chair and this check for $1,000. Unfortunately, not made out to you, but made out to your organization. What would you do with that?

Well, I don’t even know you but I know you well enough to know how if you will allow me that to say that you would not put that check anywhere. You would wait until the appropriate person came in if that’s not you and you would give it to them and that person would get them seated and you would be very careful how you treated that money. We got to do the same thing with stories.

Sometimes in our nonprofits working on weekends or in the evening or on a holiday the phone rings and it’s just an average person who wants to tell you how powerful your organization is and what it means to them. They may be a donor, they may be a friend of the organization, they may be somebody who has been helped by the organization. If you work in a food bank it could be somebody that’s a client and somehow they dialed the general number and wanted to say, thank you. It could be anything. What happens next is what troubles me and I think what troubles you as well.

The person who answers the phone, hopefully they are nice and pleasant to the person calling in, but do they have a way of writing down whatever that story is? Maybe it’s a food bank and maybe somebody is just driving by and they realize that years earlier when they were in a desperate situation the Food Bank put groceries on the table for them. They call up on a weekend to say thank you and to tell the story and they get somebody working in their office who’s maybe not even in fundraising. They thank that person, and they may tell a couple of people about it, but they don’t write it down. They don’t get the person’s name. They don’t have their email address. That person never gets followed up yet. That story is lost. Gone into the vapor.

Happens a lot with a lot of broadcasters that I work with. I work with a lot of nonprofit broadcasters and they have listeners calling them on a regular basis to talk about how powerful the impact of the programming is on themselves. The weekend part-time people they are so glad to get those calls sometimes but they don’t know what to do with them and they get lost.

That’s what we want to stop. We want our culture to value stories like money. We also want to go out and intentionally gather stories. Do you interview your clients, the people that you’re helping? Do you interview your volunteers? Do you interview your Board members? Do you interview your staff? Why are they involved? How did they get involved? Do you ever do donor surveys or send them a storytelling card or form or something to collect these things? Do you ask for stories at events? All of those kinds of things.

How do you gather stories intentionally? Most of us feel like we’re so busy doing the work that we’re doing that we don’t have time to gather stories. There’s probably some truth to that. If you want somebody to testify to your Board or to your executive director that you’re overworked as a development staff, sign me up for the job. I am happy to do that. I hardly ever seen a development staff, as far as having enough people had enough and didn’t have enough resources.

We are expected to make bricks out of straw . . . without straw sometimes. I get that. I also believe that if we train everybody in the organization as I am advocating from the top to the bottom, the volunteers, the front desk, everybody, and we make them all aware of these stories the value stories we are treating them like money. We are intentionally gathering stories when we go out and talk to people, we can wove into the work and move [SP] of who we are and what we do. We can find that storytelling and gathering and inputting really doesn’t take any more time than we think it does. It just is a matter of thinking about it and working real smarter and not so hard, I guess.

We also could set up systems to collect and archive these stories to make it easier. It’s the examples that I gave the person working on the weekend knew, “Oh this is a story. I need to go and fill out a form on this so the data gets captured and shared with the right person,” then that would make so much easier. We don’t have those systems a lot of times in our nonprofits. Also going back to what I said earlier if we share stories as part of training and it’s not just a fundraising department area not just development advancement or fundraising. Whatever you call yourself in your department, not just you, but also people that are working with clients, serving people in the program of whatever it is you do. If we all value stories and we’re using them to train each other, and it’s part of who we are, it’s part of our culture, and every now and then we step down and tell great stories, man, that’s powerful and it really helps build that storytelling culture.

We can certainly use our stories in fundraising but we can also use in our marketing. If any of you are marketing people out there and you’re working on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram and the brand new one Miracast [SP], then you’re going to need stories for that. You also need to use stories to train your team. Think about bringing a new person in. How do grow their heart? How do you grow their passion for the work they are going to be doing? If you had a collection of great stories, you might be able to do that. You can also train your team to understand storytelling arc and what makes a great stories so they become an advocate, a change agent inside your organization help you to collect more stories.

I see a question coming in. We are going to deal with questions in just a little bit. If you’ve got a question, don’t forget to go to the lower left side of your screen and just message that to us in the message box. We’ll collect those questions and ask them at the end and we are not going to be much farther along just a few more slides here. Go ahead and get your questions in.

This is what a storytelling culture looks like. You definitely have a system to gather the stories. That’s whether or not the stories are going to be gathered, a place to put them in other words. Like they happened, the phone calls coming or people working with patients or clients or whoever the people are that you’re serving. They have a way, a form to put them on, a place to put them so they are being gathered. But there’s also intentionality. We are also figuring out where our good stories come from. We are going out and we’re finding those connections and writing those stories down and researching them putting them together.

Then there has to be a process of refinement. Not everything you get it’s going to be great. Okay. The volunteer working, weekend person working might get that phone call we talked about, then they fill out the form and then it’s just not that great. Someone said this I want to say thank you and that was about the end of it. There’s not much to it. But some of the stories you’re going to get are really good. They are going to need to be refined.

They are going to need to be a person called back to get a little more information. Maybe we want to take a picture of this person. One development office I worked then in my career is the National Ministry based in Colorado Springs. We really latched onto this and we found some really great stories we thought were exemplary of who we are and what we do. We took pictures of some of these folks with their permission. I see some questions coming in about this. I am going to answer this in a minute. Took pictures of these folks. We even shot video in a couple of cases and we created art that goes on our wall where we had the frames letter, the person’s picture, and then the material facts and the story printed up and we put it all in this area where we would sometimes welcome donors to come visit us.

That was great and it’s a great way to do that. The refinement process can take lots of different shapes but it’s winnowing out the wheat from the chaff. It’s the stories that really are going to stick and really finding the right ones that we want.

There needs to be a common archiving system. In our company we have D-drive. I really don’t know what D stands for or why it’s called the D-Drive but you have the K-Drive or the J-Drive, whatever is shared drive you have. If you don’t have a drive, you can use Dropbox and get everybody to it. This is the place where you put all your stories. You can begin to sort them out by type of story, and these are the ones about hunger and these are the ones about homelessness, these are the ones about what we do, that kind of thing.

Then of course, you have to have this culture that shares stories. What can you do to get the programming people to make this a mode of their training? What can you get to do every time you are all together at a staff meeting, could you start with a story? Could you end with a story? These are some things that create value. If you gather stories and find them archive them and share them, you will value stories and that’s what we’re talking about with the storytelling culture.

Where do your stories come from? Since I don’t know your organization particularly, this is sort of a general slide here. When I come onsite and do trainings like this, we actually try to figure this stuff out. This is an overview for the average nonprofit. They can come from staff, volunteers, clients. There may be other sources of stories. It could be Board members, could be friends of the organization, could be community members, any of those kinds of things.

That’s a look at where the stories come from and it’s really important to know that because then you can map out how you’re gathering those stories and you can intentional about doing it. I highly recommend that one of the action steps after being a part of this seminar or if I come to your area and do some training is to have storytelling circles. All of these are is at the end of the meeting or before the meeting, you just get a group of people in a circle rather and you ask them to share stories about how the work is going, individual stories.

This is great if you are at the social service sector and you work with individual clients. If you are in healthcare and you work with patients, doctors, nurses, healthcare workers, social workers. All those people that come in contact with people need to actually, not just want to, but need to process and need to share stories. Some of those stories could emerge into the kinds of stories that you could use for fundraising. Some not. Okay. I understand that. But the practice of storytelling is part of valuing stories.

Here is some ways you could gather stories. You can mail out or hand out forms to clients, to people like that. You could certainly have a web version. You can create a phone line. It’s so easy. If you don’t have Google Voice, I urge you to sign up for it, if only for the entertainment value.

Here’s what I mean by that. Google Voice is a free service of Google, part of Gmail. You can forward your phone to it and it can be your voicemail. It will answer your phone. People can leave messages just like voice mail. But the one thing that it does is different is it attempts very gallantly to transcribe all of your voice mail into an email and then send it to you. It is hysterical to read what Google thinks somebody said that had nothing to do with what they actually said. That is what I mean by entertainment value.

Here’s how it would work for you as a storytelling line. You would get a local Google Voice number and again it’s free and you would put it on your website and you would say, “Hey, if you’ve got a story, you can call this phone line 24/7 and leave your story.” And then you just change the outgoing message to be more interested in your story, please take only 40-50 seconds, make sure you leave your name, email, that kind of thing. Set the outgoing message so that we can follow up with the person and boom you have a storytelling phone line and it didn’t cost you anything.

Then when messages are left on it, you can listen to them of course and you can also read through and see if there’s anything you should follow up and you have the text and sometimes it’s pretty funny when it gets it wrong but sometimes it gets it right and it helps work a little faster and smarter with your voicemail.

You could certainly brainstorm for great stories. You have to been around a long time. Get some of the people that part of your organization that know the history and try to build a list of the greatest stories of all time. The greatest things that have ever been done in your organization. Try to document those. You could even hire an intern to do that kind of research. You could ask every client in recovery organizations. I work with some folks that work with people who’ve been through addictions and storytelling is already part of the first step model but they are having their clients as part of their treatment modality write out their stories and first person and they are showing in the storytelling arc and having them touch all of this things. Then the development folks get to use them anonymously. That’s a little bit about that.

Let me try to catch up with the slides here. One more point and we are going to be done. These are the final steps. These are some things, not the final steps, the action steps. What you need to do to build a storyteller. First thing is to train your team. Whether you want me to come in or you want to take these slides and use them yourself, sit down and tell this story. Good stories. Help them understand the storytelling arc, build an archive system and make sure everybody is aware of it. Try to build a general awareness of the value of storytelling inside your organization.

Do you know what a maven is? It’s not a word that you see everywhere but a maven is sort of that point person that collects everything, sort of that one go-to-person. Maybe you need a storytelling maven or story maven who can create this. They can maintain the system. They can collect stories. They are the go-to-person on your team for that. Also you could create an archive system like I said with a shared drive or Google or a Dropbox or whatever.

Make sure your website has a form on it and that you’re sharing stories on the website too. Call your donors and visitors asking them questions about the ministry work that you’re doing or the organization work that you’re doing.

Also use stories in your marketing. Nothing produces more stories than a good story. You ever noticed that? If you’re relaxed with a group of people sometimes somebody starts telling a story, it leads to another story, it leads to another story, it leads to another story. That kind of chain effect can happen too on your website or whenever you’re having a big event or meeting. Make sure that you tweak your website to do that. And use stories in your marketing to talk about who you are and what you do. Also start in your meetings with stories. I’ve already talked about that but just for other added emphasis I think it’s really important. At this point, Steven if you want to help us through some of these questions, we will get going here with those.

Steven: Yeah, let’s do it. Jerry, that was awesome. Thanks for sharing all that information.

Jerry: You’re welcome.

Steven: I really enjoyed the presentation. I love the work flows and the examples and you got some people thinking about their own efforts because there are a few questions in here. I would definitely recommend if you are maybe a little bit shy if there is something on your mind, please do ask away. We probably got about maybe 12 minutes or so for questions. I don’t want to keep people too long, especially if you haven’t eaten lunch yet.

Jerry, I am just going to go down the list here.

Jerry: Sure.

Steven: First question is from Tracy. This is a question I see a lot within the topic of storytelling. What about real stories and we have to follow HIPAA laws or maybe there are some sensitivity in general it doesn’t pertain to HIPAA necessarily? What about those instances where maybe you can’t talk specifically about one individual but you do want to tell that story? What advice would you have for Tracy there?

Jerry: I used to work with an organization that was helping teenagers in part and some of the stories were very, very poignant and touching. One example we saw a lot of were young girls who were into what kids call “cutting,” the self-mutilation. Very personal. They are teenagers. Sometimes as young as 13 years old. We developed a standard practice that I recommend to all of our clients even if they are not subject to HIPAA. Just make every story anonymous.

Don’t use a person’s real name. If there name is Steven change it to Stan or something, Stanley. Just completely change every single name, don’t use it and even if you’re working with kids. Be careful about photographs because there’s perverts everywhere. Be very careful about details, locations, change all of those, or leave them out if you need to without learning the character or the story.

I had never worked in a healthcare agency so I only know about HIPAA as a consumer. I do know that I have to sign a release form so that one doctor can talk to another and see my records. I would assume that there has got to be a release form that would allow you to anonymously share a patient’s story. I would think. If there’s not, maybe somebody needs to get with our attorneys and work on something like that. I think a lot of times people are so afraid of these things that they don’t even try them and I honestly think it’s worth the trying and the risk, if you will.

I know that sounds a little cagey but I definitely think I would try to change the name and change some of the details and still use the story if that person is giving me permission and if you really want background and so and so forth, get a form filled out. It might limit you if you are in that context of getting a picture and I don’t know how photographs I know that photo releases have to be signed by real person to use their image. Parents have to sign for children but I don’t know how HIPAA affects that. I guess, that is something you might want to refer to your legal department and ask them about.

Steven: Yeah. But you would recommend getting that even written permission even if you anonymize the story. So if you change of name and you would still recommend . . .

Jerry: Yeah, I was subject . . . When I worked in university context, you are subject to whatever that [inaudible 00:42:24] similar but you couldn’t share grades and stuff like that. Whenever we told student stories, we would get their permission or their parent’s permission if they were under 18 and we would then, it didn’t have anything to do with grades, couldn’t have anything with grades because that was one of the things and we would get them to sign a form, a release form. We did that with it was a university policy. We did that with adults too, with alumni, and if we were going to use their picture and their quote and all that kind of stuff. For something where you are just going to tell the story and you are just going to use the first name, just change the name. Change the details of the story so it’s not so specific. That kind of thing.

Steven: Lisa just commented. And I thought it was an appropriate follow up. She mentioned that they wouldn’t share a story if they could be tied to something that was public knowledge because they would be too easy to link to the real person. I think taking those steps is definitely prudent for sure.

Jerry: Oh, yeah. And it seems like Lisa works with women who’ve been victimized.

Steven: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

Jerry: I think you have to be very careful with that. I would definitely change the names and try to leave out place, date, time details. And just be really, really cautious about it because you don’t want to run the risk of that attacker or abuser getting a hold of that woman again. I certainly understand that.

Steven: You can tell a story that’s effective but if it’s still sort of vague. I mean, that can be done.

Jerry: Yeah.

Steven: It’s all about the impact, right?

Jerry: Right. That’s where the storytelling arc helps you. If you know what elements there are and how to build them out, then you know what’s important to the hearer. I might put that back up if I could find it real quick. Here you go.

Steven: Yeah.

Jerry: Yeah. If you can really zero in on the character, that doesn’t necessarily give away location, time, place details. It might but it doesn’t have to. You can find ways of building that character. You won’t even have to get their age. You could change their name and say, “Joan is woman in her 40s who loves running and hiking and backpacking,” or something and instantly we have all figured out oh she’s kind of . . . We have somebody in our mind that looks like Joan. That’s all that building character really is. If this is where having the essential elements of the story written down and knowing what you are going after helps you especially in this permission context.

Steven: I love it.

Jerry: Great. Somebody . . . Go ahead.

Steven: Let’s get one from Richard. Oh, go ahead.

Jerry: That’s why I want to hear that . . . I wanted to answer before we get too far into this because I think it is a great question. Mario is asking will he share a short story that includes all of the elements mentioned. You care if I do that real quick? Okay.

Steven: Go for it. I want to hear it.

Jerry: Because I am a faith-based guy. I am from a Christian perspective, this is a story about that. If you’re maybe from another faith or you don’t have any faith, I don’t want to in any way offend you. This is endemic of who we are in faith-based culture. I worked for a ministry called Way-FM. Some of you they have Way-FM radio stations in your markets. They have about 100 stations around the country. One of my favorite stories that I retold to the President and the Vice President two weeks and they forgot about the story and they wanted to . . . is about a lady that I will call Kelly. Kelly is one of those people who comes from the hard places in life. She was abused as a child. She was imprisoned multiple times. She had a drug habit, a habit. She was put on a program that turned her around and helped her get clean and helped her finish her sentencing. They put her in an apartment.

This is a young lady probably 40 years old but her whole life has been in and out of prison, in and out of rehab programs. But she is finally clean. She is finally trying to make it. She lives in this apartment with borrowed furniture, hardly anything in it. She doesn’t have anything but the clothes on her back. She goes to take a shower for the first time and there’s a little shower radio. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen one of those. I’ve seen them one or two times but it’s the kind that you get at Bed Bath Beyond, hang off at the shower head. She goes to turn it on and it’s just static. She turns around the dial and she looks everywhere and finally one station comes in and they are playing a lot of music she doesn’t recognize. She never heard this station before. She dials around and it’s the only station this radio will pick up.

It happened to be the local Way-FM station in Nashville. She left it on because hey, music is better than no music. She didn’t own any other radio. She left it on and finished her shower and then everyday she went in whenever she took a shower she would reach in this radio or turn this radio on and listen to the only station it got, Way-FM. Over a long period of time she noticed that music sounded . . . I think she called it cool. It sounded like music she had heard before but it was different. After three or four days, she kind of figured out that the music was talking about God and Jesus and stuff. She kept listening every single day.

After about four months she had reached a point in her recovery where she was ready to make some serious changes in her life. We as Christians believe that God can use that local radio station Way-FM to speak into Kelly’s life. She was able to hear about God’s love for her. How much despite her past He cared about her and he wanted to make a difference in her life. Right there in her shower she prayed and had, what we call she accepted Christ. You might call, know it as a religious conversion or whatever term you want to go with that. She actually became a believer in Christ and it radically changed her life.

The last time I heard about Kelly, she was working in half way house for women and was on staff and was doing really well. That’s her story. When you look at the storytelling arc and who do we have? Who do we have as a character? We have Kelly, and who was she? She was this person who been through all these things. For the sake of brevity, I didn’t tell it with a lot of details although I could. We talked about Kelly’s life before. We talked about her point of discovery. What was her point of discovery, Steven?

Steven: I guess, the shower, right?

Jerry: Yeah, finding the radio station in the shower and how weird that it was the only radio one she could get.

Steven: Right.

Jerry: It is pretty interesting. We can talk about what her life is like now. She’s helping other people to serve. She is filled with joy. She has peace in her life, all those kinds of things. We will connect that back in the ministry of Way-FM which is a Christian Radio Network. We share the gospel with people. We want to encourage people to know that God is love and that He cares about human beings and He wants a relationship with them. If you would like to have more people like Kelly. If you would like to have more people hearing this kind of message on the radio, then why don’t you support Way-FM so we can build more stations to make that happen?

Steven: Right.

Jerry: Mario, that is exactly how you would do it. It wouldn’t necessarily be a Christian thing. It just work really well for the School of Law, at the University of South Carolina where I used to work. You find the story and make sure it has this all elements in it and put it in that format. It works almost every time.

Steven: You can use the word “brevity” which ties into Richard’s question. He is wondering how long should the story be. If you follow this formula, does it have to be, take up two pages? Can you do it in a tweet? Can you do it in a Facebook post? Can you do it on email, or do you need it to build a whole letter about it with? Does it work on shortness? Can you convince things and still be effective? What’s your thought on length?

Jerry: In a perfect world you only tell the story, as much as the story, and it’s only as long as the hearer, the listener, wants to hear. There’s no way to know that in every context. But that’s what you’re going for. I would say err on the side of brevity. If you can get the character development, the stasis, the idea before the point of discovery, the transition connected to your mission all in three or four paragraphs, five paragraphs, I would do that.

You can practice. A person can do it in one paragraph if they are very effective at it. You want to err on the side of brevity but if you’re telling a story at a banquet, if I were to tell the Kelly story at a banquet, I would probably tell it a much longer version than I just shared with you because I would want to add color. I would want to build the relationship with the audience and try to make it relatable to them and all of those kinds of things. Two rules come away from this. Err on the side of brevity and the second rule is try to tailor the format of the story, the length of the story to the context of who you’re talking to and what you’re doing and do it the best you can.

Steven: You mentioned something if you were telling the other story. The call to action, for maybe lack of a better word. You get done telling the story. It’s the invitation, right? What advice do you have for crafting that invitation? Because I think I see a lot of nonprofits doing awesome job of the story and then that’s it. They leave people hanging and there’s no after. There’s no invitation.

Jerry: Right.

Steven: Any advice for crafting that? That seems almost like maybe the most important part of this. If I could be bold in saying that.

Jerry: It is. You are right. We call it “invitation” because we work in the faith-based context and that’s buzz word for us. You definitely can call it a “call to action.” That’s the same thing. I think though the mission and the invitation or the call to action are totally related. After we tell the story, or as the story is wrapping up, we need to explain or say why that story is an example or an illustration or part of what we do as an organization on mission. The phrase is like, “we help people like Kelly everyday discover the truth.” “We are doing this kind of work with John that we just told you about and hundreds of others.” And you try fit the story into your mission as an example of what you are doing.

After you do that, then the invitation almost takes care of itself. Then it’s a simple “Ask.” Again, the call to action can be different. You might want people to volunteer. So, wouldn’t you like to volunteer to help more people like John? Would you like to volunteer to help more people like Kelly? Or would you like to make a monthly gift to help make sure that this radio stations are on every single month. You can tailor the “Ask” but it needs to be all good “Ask” that needs to be very specific that needs to be results oriented and needs to show people what they are going to do, what is going to happen if they make their gift or that commitment or whatever else. I would say treat the invitation like an “Ask” and make sure it’s built off at the mission.

Steven: Right. Makes sense. Jerry, this is awesome. I know we are getting close to the hour and I want to give you the last words to tell people where they can find out more about you. Obviously, your consultancy, not just for faith-based organizations, obviously, these things apply to any type of organization. Where can people find you, follow you online? I know you are a Twitter guy too, so you might want to share that.

Jerry: Yeah, I am going to put up here my in the comments section, my email address and my phone number. So that people can just call me or email me. I would love to hear from you. Again, although, we are . . . Advocace is a consultancy that’s working specifically with faith-based organizations, Christian organizations. We work at Bible colleges, rescue missions, K through 12 schools, Christian broadcasters, camps, all those kinds of things.

We also, we will work with just about anybody on a couple of different things. If you would like to know more about that call me, email me, that kind of thing. Thank you for putting up my Twitter handle there. It’s JeRadio, is my Twitter handle. I am on Facebook. I have a Facebook page called The Development Evangelist, that’s also the title of my blog which is at I learn a lot by interacting with people that are doing the work of development. If you just have a question, if you have a comment, even if you didn’t care for something today, still talk to me because you can learn from just about anybody, I believe. I would love to hear from you.

Steven: Yeah. Well, this is awesome. Thanks so much for hanging out for an hour.

Jerry: You’re welcome.

Steven: Thanks all of you for taking an hour out of your day.

Jerry: Absolutely.

Steven: I know everyone is busy and it can be a lot to sit in front of a webinar. We’d love to see you again. We do this every Thursday. I am going to be updating the schedule for April. We’ve got some really cool guests and topics coming up. In addition to that, we got a daily blog post on our Bloomerang blog every day, every business day, I should say, something educational. Got some downloadables, we’ve got my video podcast Bloomerang TV. Jerry, we have got to have you on that. Now that I think of that. I might [inaudible 00:56:27]

Jerry: That would be great. I’d love to. Love to.

Steven: The Nonprofit Wrap-Up, my newsletter, we’d love for you to sign up for that. You can look at that on our resources page. We’d love to see you again. Thanks for being here. I’ll be sending out the recording a little later on this afternoon. Look for an email from me. Sylvia, the Twitter is @J-E Radio for Jerry, so send him a tweet. He would love to see that as well. We will include all of Jerry’s contacts and so on, on that email.

We will call it a day, there. Thanks for hanging out and have a good weekend, and we’d love to see you in a couple of Thursdays from now. Take care now, everyone. Bye now.

Kristen Hay

Kristen Hay

Marketing Manager at Bloomerang
Kristen Hay is the Marketing Manager at Bloomerang. From 2018 - 2020, she served as the Director of Communications for the Public Relations Society of America's local Hoosier chapter. Prior to that she served on several different committees and in committee chair roles.