I recently taught at workshop at the Land Trust Alliance's southeast regional conference where I had participants sketch out a story they wanted to tell to their supporters over  the summer.

This is what we call a communications arc. You pick an overarching story you want to tell over the course of several weeks or months, then you break that larger story down into smaller stories that you put on to your editorial calendar and into your specific communications channels (like your website, Facebook, email newsletter, etc.).

First I asked participants to identify that big story for the summer by completing this title: The Story of  _________. Here are some of the examples that small groups worked on together:

  • The story of creating a public park
  • The story of protecting a special piece of land
  • The story of farmland preservation
  • The story of receiving the BP funding and restoration of the Gulf
  • The story of our fundraising event
  • The story of our upcoming public forum
  • The story of our strategic planning process

Next, I asked them to identify a beginning, middle, and end to the story.

For the event oriented stories, the end was actually holding the event, with the beginning and middle as the lead up to it (why they were doing it, getting ready for it).  The farmland preservation story was broken down into planting, growing and harvesting as the beginning, middle, and end, which is nice metaphor, both literally and figuratively for telling that particular story. The group that worked on BP funding and restoration defined the beginning, middle, and end as getting the money and planning how to spend it, purchasing land and habitat for wildlife, and demonstrating how we can make protecting birds and fish a way of life.

Then, I asked them to start sketching out the editorial calendar.  For the sake of the exercise, I had them work on communicating the beginning of the story in June, the middle in July, and the end in August. (In real life, it's not always that easy to get a story to fit perfectly within a specific timeframe, but hopefully you see the process evolving.)

With the big sections of the overarching story now in place, we started to get more specific.

Because it's always easier to "meet people where they are," we looked at some common themes and topics for each month, where we could anchor the parts of our story on to something people are already thinking about. In June, that could include Father's Day. Since many people decide to work with land trusts as a way to protect family legacies, getting someone to talk about land conservation as a way of honoring their fathers is an easy hook.  For July, we talked about Independence Day, and in August, about the dog days of summer (this is the South after all).

Next, we looked at some popular formats for nonprofit content and started brainstorming ways to communicate that bigger story article by article, tweet by tweet, etc. For example, we talked about Top Ten lists, how-to articles, advice columns and other popular article formats.  We brainstormed ways that we could tell a little piece of what might otherwise by a complicated or dry story in these different ways that feel more friendly and natural to readers.

As we worked through these and a few other exercises, I asked participants to think about three different ways to use the content they were coming up with -- in other words, three different communications channels that they could repurpose the content into. For example, if they wrote a how-to article on their website, they should also note how they might use a teaser or part of the article in their email newsletter and also send out some of the tips individually on Facebook or Twitter. All of this ends up on the editorial calendar.

What big stories will you tell this summer? Share your beginning, middle and end with us on Facebook