magnetic-poetryThere’s an intriguing trend on the horizon: an increasing number of organizations are recognizing and elevating the importance of storytelling by codifying it into a leadership role. More and more groups are installing a Chief Storyteller.

Examples abound:

  • I temporarily played the role for our client Peers, while they ramped up operations in their first year.
  • Our client  Rainforest Action Network is seeking the right candidate for the role.
  • The role is nothing new for social purpose business; Catchafire, a B-corporation which matches pro-bono professionals with nonprofits, has a chief storyteller.

Thanks to the work of our colleagues Andy Goodman, who wrote Storytelling as Best Practice, as well as our colleagues at Storytellers for Good, and Mission Minded, more nonprofits are getting it; the right story might be our most powerful engagement tool.

And as nonprofits become increasingly savvy about communications, the task of communicating spreads across the team. Many organizations are shifting from a single communications staff person, to a staff that communicates. This creates a need for a leader within the organization to “get the story straight,” supporting and aligning efforts to educate and engage.

So what, exactly, does a chief storyteller do?

The Strategy of Stories
A chief storyteller determines how stories support the larger strategy, and then craft the conceptual framework of stories to convey programs and reinforce the organization’s brand. The chief storyteller must also have a keen sense of the organization’s constituency; those whose stories need telling. The chief storyteller must also ensure that any one story advances the organization’s larger change analysis and agenda. More on that here.

Stories are at once everywhere and also very hard to find. It’s the job of the chief storyteller to surface the stories from staff, constituents, allies, donors and others. A great chief storyteller has a knack for asking great questions like these from StoryCorps that prompt people to tell their stories.

Then there’s the hard work of capturing and cataloging an organization’s stories, so they can be readily woven into communications. Some chief storytellers rely on Google docs for this purpose, while others simply house their library of stories on the organization’s shared drive. Consumers Union is developing the tool to help advocates gather, curate and use personal stories to effect change. No matter what tool you use, it’s key that stories are up to date, accessible to all, and linked to the contact info of those featured in the story in case you need to follow up for media relations or other purposes.

Create Campfires
The most important task of the chief storyteller is to create campfire moments – everywhere. The chief storyteller is charged with creating a culture of storytelling across the organization. Ideally, the chief storyteller turns every communication into a campfire moment –a moment of human connection, and authentic emotion. Videos, blogs, newsletters, annual reports, presentations, web sites are all enriched by great stories. The chief storyteller also holds the organization’s editorial calendar as a key tool to plan, prioritize and perfect the stories to be told.

Who’s the chief storyteller in your organization?

Photo courtesy of  Flickr user surrealmuse
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Holly MinchHolly Minch is LightBox Collaborative’s founding partner and hopes your life and work are filled with inspiring stories.