Build Your Nonprofit Story Bank (Case Study)

Welcome to guest blogger Meghan Hurley, Special Events Intern at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and a senior at Loyola University Maryland. 

Congrats to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) for 40 years of persistent work to improve access to, and quality of, health care. RWJF has a multi-faceted anniversary campaign in place including sharing stories of those who have been touched by its work in some way.

Storytelling is a natural component of an anniversary campaign, but requires your organization to find those meaningful stories that may well have been lost (or never gathered, noted or heard) over the years. Here’s what Meghan writes about RWJF’s story banking approach and results….

Throughout its history, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has celebrated much success in its funded work. That’s why the Foundation is now asking those who have been touched by, or involved in, its work to share their stories in the form of short essay, photograph or video.

We’re eager to hear about both personal and professional experiences and have reached out for stories (via the Tell Us Your Story Campaign) publicly through the Foundation’s Facebook page, Twitter handle and website plus via our  alumni and grantee networks, and email subscriber lists. Not surprisingly, our email outreach has been our main source of traffic to the story site—the large majority of visits, nearly 70%, resulted from emails to our subscribers —while our social media efforts yielded approximately 7% of visits.

The Challenge and Reward of Reflecting on 40 Years

Although we’ve collected stories in the past, never has our request been so broad. This presents its own challenges and rewards, and I’d like to share a few of them:

Challenge: It’s hard to get people to share their stories.

We have often encouraged people to share their stories on specific topics, but we have never cast our net so wide. We receive many proposals when we are offering a grant, but when there is no obvious reward, it’s harder to spur submissions. The incentive for telling a story has to come from the heart. (Note from Nancy: It’s always harder to generate a response when a request so broad. The more specific a request, the easier it is (in general) to respond. A non-specific request makes the prospective respondent work much harder, and you’re likely to get far fewer responses and very few that match your needs. Be as specific as possible in your request detailing 1) what you’re looking for; 2) how the responses will be used; and 3) how long it will take to respond.)

Reward: By sharing the stories we receive, we are helping to connect and build the RWJF community.

Here are some of the stories RWJF community members have shared with Meghan and team:

Although metrics, outcomes and evaluations are critically important to the Foundation, we also realize that it is just as critical to listen to what people say. We are rewarded by every story we read or watch; they each reflect different aspects of our history—different eras, grants, and people, including some that haven’t been on our radar screen recently.

We learn from every story, and our hope is that when we share these stories others will have the chance to learn more about our work, and feel a stronger connection to these experiences and to each other.

By the way, if you have been involved with or affected by the work of the RWJF, please share your stories with us by July 31! 

How do you find and share your key stories?

Have you ever tried to surface forgotten tales from people in your organization’s history? How have you found those stories? How do you share your stories? Please share your story sourcing and telling experiences here.

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