"And the beat goes on................"
Stories have long been part of our "case making" process. Though anecdotal, our stories, particularly of our supporters, audiences, volunteers, and donors complement other kinds of data and evidence we use to make our case to funders, the media, the public and our own constituent base. The stories are important because they play to the human side of the equation, often giving context and meaning to our other arguments as to our value.
In advocacy, for example, we are encouraged, in personal meetings with elected officials, to always have someone with us who can tell a personal story as to how what we do has personally impacted them in a positive way. That impact can be anything from an education, health or even emotional benefit. Stories give our arguments a human component and thus make other arguments more understandable and meaningful.
A Story Bank is a way to collect stories from people involved in our organizations and to organize and make those stories more easily and readily available. Rather than having to identify an appropriate story every time we might have use for one, a Story Bank is a readily available, ongoing catalog of those stories, which can be used for a myriad of purposes.
In a post by Wendy Levy, Executive Director at the Alliance for Media Arts and Culture, she notes:
"A storybank is a mechanism for capturing and sharing stories in a variety of mediums. If we don’t capture our stories and share them, they’ll disappear.But stories are more than just currency. They are footprints, chronicles of our collective human experience, exchanges, lessons, memories and maps."
I would urge every organization to set up a Story Bank as a repository of stories relevant to the organization. Those can chronicle personal impact and value, can preserve the organization's history and legacy, and can categorize beat practices and past mistakes. While data and evidence based decision making is essential, stories can give data and evidence meaning, and enhance how we use data and evidence to make smart decisions. It is our stories, particularly of impact and value, that support the argument of the preference for the intrinsic value of the arts.
There are all kinds of stories: Stories that changed the direction of a young person's life; stories that gave meaning and helped the health care of a senior; stories that helped to bridge divides between people in a community; stories about the sheer joy of beholding something of beauty; stories about well spent afternoons or evenings in the company of friends. Our stories are unlimited and endless. And they need a place to live. They can help us, inform us, and remind us of who we are and what we do. They can be used as evidence, in reports and even evaluations, in marketing and publicity and to help form our best decisions. And over time, they lend perspective to where we've been and where we're going.
So how do you set up a Story Bank. Start by surveying your own staff and Board and ask them for their stories as to how the organization and the arts have influenced and impacted their lives, and why they value the arts. This doesn't have to be complicated, nor do the stories need to be epic tomes. A paragraph of a personally told anecdotal story is often enough. Try to start your story database there, then when you have that foundation, move on to your supporters, donors, volunteers, and don't forget the kids - whose stories are often the most poignant and impactful.
Finally, move to your audiences. Send out simple surveys. Set up a table at your event to encourage people to include their stories. Give them examples. Make it simple, and fun. Ask people if you can call or email them to do a very quick interview, then create a template of two or three interview questions designed to get their story. Figure out ways to reward your story tellers. Generally, people like to tell their stories.
Over time you will have created a Bank of Stories that you, your staff and Board and others can tap into to make the case for your organizations on multiple levels. That bank can help the organization for years. If possible, you can create a separate website to house all the stories and make it accessible to the public, to the media etc. - or at least include a story section on your main website.
The folks at FamiliesUSA - a site devoted to family healthcare - have created an excellent Toolkit, including video instruction, on how how to create, collect and manage a Story Bank. Excellent resource.
Stories are powerful. But you need to organize and catalog them to make them accessible to you - and others - so as to make them easily available and to capture their power. They do little good hidden away and forgotten. Give them the light of day. This needn't take away precious staff time; it's a perfect project for a volunteer to organize.
Have a great week.