the art of storytelling

Storytelling is at the heart of effective communications. But powerful storytelling doesn’t always come easy to the nonprofit sector.

To address this need for some schooling in storytelling, last week’s CompassPoint’s Nonprofit Day 2010 included the first Communications Institute. A conference within a conference, the Institute was designed for attendees who wanted to spend their Nonprofit Day discussing the state of the art in nonprofit communications. LightBox Collaborative is proud to have partnered with CompassPoint to design the Communications Institute.

CompassPoint has also asked LightBox Collaborative to develop a series of trainings, which will kick off later in 2010. Look for more details about this exciting project on our blog, Facebook, and Twitter in the coming months.

Here are the highlights from the Communications Institute:

The Minute Message Model

Jennie Winton and Zach Hochstadt of Mission Minded hosted the Minute Message Model, their new workshop. They taught attendees how to stop talking about what you do and focus on why you do it through a framework for effective storytelling.

One of the insights Jennie and Zach shared was the key building blocks of any good story: narrative and the moment of reflection.

  • Narrative (“First this happened, then this happened, and then…”) is not simply a way to hook your audience. Narrative also shows how your organization’s work leads to real changes in people’s lives.
  • The moment of reflection, which appears at the end of many well-told stories, reminds people why they should care.

Combine narrative and the moment of reflection, and you’re on your way toward winning your audience’s support.

We don’t want to give too much away since Mission Minded is hosting another Minute Message Model training on September 14th in San Francisco.

Excellence in Engagement

The “Excellence in Engagement” panel featured three smart individuals who are telling gripping stories in innovative ways:

  • Jacob Colker of The Extraordinaries talked about opportunities available via new networks being catalyzed by technology. He gave a tour of his company’s microvolunteering platform, which allows individuals to become part of a nonprofit’s story in a powerful and unique way.
  • Will Valverde of Watershed Company highlighted email and online campaigns that engage their audiences in a narrative of advocacy and inclusion, including the Humane Society’s “Thistle’s Story,” National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s Queer the Census, and Planned Parenthood’s The Pill is Personal.
  • Cara Jones of Storytellers for Good showed a video she’d shot in Kenya just the week before about the personal story of a woman carrying on her mother’s charitable work—a reminder that good storytelling benefits from powerful characters the audience can care about.

Strategic Communications Planning

LightBox Collaborative’s Holly Minch closed out the Communications Institute with a session on strategic communications planning that tied together the day’s learnings. Holly provided participants with a framework that will help ensure that their stories serve a strategic purpose in their communications work.

Whether your issue is climate change or healthcare, for a successful communications plan you should first define measurable goals and identify target audiences. Then, craft messages that truly connect with those audiences—messages that will imbue your audience with shared values and embed them in familiar narratives. It’s a tried-and-true method for moving constituents to action.

Moment of Reflection

This quote, shared by Cara Jones, could have easily served as a motto for the first Communications Institute at CompassPoint’s Nonprofit Day:

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

– Maya Angelou

(image courtesy Flickr user __Olga__, Creative Commons)
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Heath Wickline is a raconteur at LightBox Collaborative. He is looking forward to the upcoming series of communications trainings at CompassPoint.