This guest post by Allison Monnell demonstrates not only the power of storytelling in nonprofit communications, but just how beneficial it can be to your nonprofit when you integrate a culture of story sharing into your everyday work, as the Chemung ARC has done with its Stringer Success Stories. Allison shared her story with me when I presented my storytelling workshop for the AFP Finger Lakes Chapter, and she graciously agreed to share it with you.
Guest Post by Allison Monnell, Community Relations Director, Chemung ARC
Working in the human service industry avails itself naturally of great stories of milestones gained, accomplishments achieved and goals met. But how does one capture those numerous success stories to share with one’s constituents, whether they are fellow employees or the larger community?
I work for an agency that supports people with developmental disabilities in the Finger Lakes region of New York. Our challenge was capturing good stories of the people we support and figuring out how to best share them. With over 700 people supported by the agency and a staff of over 400 across 30 different locations, we had to be methodical in our approach. Because the agency distributes an internal e-newsletter to our staff each week, and since this newsletter is the primary source of news and communiqués throughout our agency, we thought this the best vehicle to share our stories.
We set about assigning satellite reporters at each of our locations that we call “stringers” from the old newspaper term for a freelance reporter who was paid by the column inch, which was measured by string and turned into the publisher at the end of each month. We chose front line staff that is privy to the personal triumphs of the people they support each day. We set upon a rotation schedule and asked each stringer to commit to a year by submitting at least two stories per year. We stressed that creative writing skills were not necessary; we just wanted the nuts and bolts: Who, What, Where, When, How & Why. Editing was left to me, and of course, pictures were encouraged.
The idea was that if a story was compelling enough, we would share it with the media. As an agency that is fully enmeshed in providing opportunities for successes and being an excellent community partner, this process fell in line with our mission.
The great payoff is when those stories go beyond the halls of our agency and the greater public is able to share in the benefits we have the privilege of witnessing daily. That happened one Christmas season when we shared the story of Jerry, a man who we support that volunteers at the main library in Elmira, with our local media.
Reporter Jim Pfeiffer (formerly with the Star-Gazette, Elmira, NY), an avid library-goer himself, showed up at Steele Memorial Library to interview Jerry. Jerry dutifully answered Jim’s questions about his background, his work and his love of volunteering at the library. Unbeknownst to Jerry and Jim, another patron who was in the library during the interview, Dr. Ralph Moore, watched the interaction and was touched by what he saw. How surprised we were to learn that Dr. Moore would be so moved to submit an Op-Ed piece to the Star-Gazette about his observation of Jim and Jerry that was featured a week later on Christmas Day.
So our little story about Jerry’s love of volunteering led to a feature article in the Star-Gazette AND an Op-Ed piece. It was reaffirming to see that our method of sharing “success stories” worked! It was like the rolling stone gathering moss. We were thrilled at our agency, thrilled for Jerry, thrilled for those that support Jerry, and thrilled that our idea of sharing human interest stories could be impactful. This was recognition enough, but almost a year later the recognition went even further.
Our state association, NYSARC, Inc., holds an annual competition, the Media Awards, that recognizes significant contributions and an ongoing commitment through documented journalism toward furthering the public’s awareness of developmental disabilities. I nominated Jim’s article for best human interest story and Dr. Moore’s column for best editorial. Lo and behold, Jim’s story won third place, and Dr. Moore’s piece took first place! Icing on the cake.
For those of you struggling with ways to capture stories, our Stringer Success Story program has been successfully reporting out stories each week for over five years. We count it as one of our agency success strategies! Please feel free to contact me to learn more about how to start your own “Stringer” program.
Allison Monnell lives in the beautiful Finger Lakes region of New York state where she works as a community relations director for Chemung ARC, a not-for-profit agency that supports people with developmental disabilities. Additionally, Allison owns and operates Alli’s Studio, a full-service digital design firm specializing in inspired and creative custom design. When time permits, she enjoys interior design, decorative painting and visiting the gorgeous gorges that grace the Finger Lakes.