5 Steps to Discovering Great Stories for Your Organization (Even if You’re a Policy Organization)

Marta Lindsey

Marta Lindsey

We encourage telling stories about people, but a lot of you don’t deal directly with the actual people you want to help! As a nonprofit communications consultant and former communications director at TransForm, Marta Lindsey shares some tips on how you can still tell powerful stories even if you don’t have cute kids or puppies. ~Kivi

Guest Post by Marta Lindsey

We know stories are, in the words of Andy Goodman, our “single most powerful communications tool” as nonprofit communicators.

However, when your nonprofit is a step or two removed from the people it impacts, getting these stories is often a huge challenge.  This is especially true at policy organizations.

Kivi has a great post on telling stories when your organization helps indirectly, with creative ways to get around this challenge by utilizing partners’ clients, drawing from stories in the news, and using testimonials.

But sometimes you need the real deal – a straight-from-the-source, personal story that’s both compelling to read and perfectly captures why your organization’s work is so important.

So how do you get there?  I came up with five steps especially for policy organizations to discover great stories and interviewees inspired by my time at TransForm, a transportation advocacy organization.

Note: Even if your nonprofit directly helps people or animals, these steps will help you get on a path towards the right story. 

#1: Write down some core, high-level messages about your nonprofit’s beliefs – the why behind your work. 

For example, statements like, “Workers should be able to get to good jobs whether or not they have a car or can drive.” 

#2: Come up with something specific your nonprofit has done that connects with one of the messages in #1.  

This could be a bill you helped pass, a new program/policy you successfully advocated for, funding you won, etc. For example, “We passed a bridge toll increase that now funds all-night bus service.” 

#3: Brainstorm potential rough sketches of stories that might express this work (that will also resonate with your target audience/s). 

A way to think about this is, “What’s a manifestation of #2 in the real world?” For example, “How about a story about someone who’s now able to work a second job/night shift because of the new bus service?” 

#4: Talk with staff who work on-the-ground (or with on-the-ground partners) to see who they might know with a story along the lines of an idea in #3. 

You can also put the word out to your organization’s supporters (as well as your personal networks) for people who match the specific story you’re looking for. This is what journalists do! 

#5: Start talking with potential interviewees. See if their story connects with your nonprofit’s work and the audience/s you want to reach. If so, confirm they’re interested and then set up a time for a full interview.  

The interview is when you’ll unearth all the details about the person and the obstacles they have overcome that will help you craft a great story. Here are a few interviewing resources to get you started: Chapter Seven in Kivi’s first book; StoryCorps’ list of great interview questions; and page 8 of Stories Worth Telling. 

Do you have other tips or resources to share in discovering great stories and interviewees? 

Marta Lindsey is a nonprofit communications consultant and children’s author. She also leads the Bay Area Cause Communications Community, where nonprofit communicators share resources and insights to be more effective in their jobs.



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  • Jenny Fogarty

    I like how you start with the big picture – why we do what we do and what we believe as an organization – and then narrow it down, step-by-step, to the very specific personal story. Sometimes when I’ve gone the opposite direction (starting with the specific story), I’ll eventually realize it’s not the most relevant story for my audience or goals. So I appreciate Marta’s suggestion and road map here.

    • Mike Cosby

      A practical guide to storytelling for social change that’s applicable to all levels of “the work.” Contextualizing the process with relevant examples makes these concepts much more user-friendly. Thanks for generously sharing your communications expertise.

  • This is such a helpful guide! Knowing you need stories to strengthen your work and not knowing where to start is intimidating. Thank you for sharing your expertise, Marta.