What’s Your Story? Nonprofits Need “Founding” Story

I’m teaching
Nonprofit Storytelling: How to Write Your Nonprofit’s Best Stories
this Wednesday, September 10, at 1:00 p.m. Eastern (10:00 a.m. Pacific).

Join the webinar for just $35.

Every nonprofit has great stories to tell, although it’s not always clear exactly how and when you should tell those stories.

One story that ALL nonprofits should tell is your “founding” story or “how we got started” story.

One of my favorite founding stories is the one on Heifer International’s website. It’s buried in the site, but I bet it’s a story that staff tells all the time when introducing the organization to new supporters.

“These children don’t need a cup, they need a cow” was Dan West’s reaction to ladling out food rations to starving kids. What he did next, and how it grew into Heifer International is a great story for several reasons:

It’s about real people.

It’s about real emotions.

It’s about real actions that those real people took based on those real emotions.

Here is another founding story that appeared as Ruth Sheehan’s column in the Raleigh News and Observer this week: “Paying It Forward for Real” is the story of how the Caring Community Foundation came to be (Thanks to my buddy Claire Meyerhoff for the tip).

Once again, you’ll see that what makes this story so effective is that it’s about just a few specific, real people, reacting with real emotion to a situation (cancer in this case) and doing something concrete about it.

Note what these founding stories are NOT about:

— All the different organizational permutations that brought them to where they are today.

— Generic people who had generic ideas and generic responses ala “A bunch of people in the community had an idea and started coming to some meetings about it.”

— Lots of irrelevant detail that detracts from the core message. It’s sometimes hard to boil down a founding story when you are in the process of founding an organization, but with a little time and hindsight, you should be able to find those essential elements that explain why and how you came to be.

You can learn more about nonprofit storytelling during this Wednesday’s webinar. Details and Registration Here.



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  • Thanks for sharing. It’s interesting that foundation stories, which are often very powerful, aren’t brought to the forefront of online campaigns. Far more often I see nonprofits highlighting stories of a current crisis in their online efforts.