There are few topics and ideas that have generated as much buzz in philanthropy over the past few years as storytelling. It’s all with good reason, of course. Storytelling can help foundations and their grantees increase reach and resources—and, by extension, impact.
And many foundations are already investing in strategic storytelling—including The Rockefeller Foundation, the supporter of Hatch for Good, a storytelling resource we developed to help elevate the practice of storytelling in the social impact sector. Hatch for Good leverages the power of narratives and networks (through digital communications) to help increase impact.
But how can grants managers help elevate storytelling in their organizations? We have a few ideas to consider.
Educate Program Staff & Leadership
As grants managers, you work with people from across all program and practice areas. Because siloing is one of the major obstacles to integrating storytelling into foundations, you can use your broad point of view to educate key people in your organization about the power of storytelling through the following ways:
- Integrating storytelling into grants (making the development of a story by the end of a grant a requirement, for example) and communications (creating a storybank)
- Creating a storytelling organization
- Creating great stories through a tried and true, systematic method, from the Hatch for Good site
- Making the case for investments in storytelling—including insights from this piece by Neill Coleman, VP of Global Communications at The Rockefeller Foundation
- Offering trainings on storytelling, which can be done virtually or in person, to bring people up to speed on the latest tools, techniques and best practices
Plug into Evaluation
Many foundations—perhaps even yours— are trying to figure out how to evaluate communications as part of broader evaluation efforts. If you’re using digital tools and platforms to tell stories, you can start to evaluate those storytelling methods as part of larger communications efforts. And you can go beyond Twitter followers and Facebook likes, to use data to really inform communications efforts.
Help Grantees with Engagement Efforts
Over the past two years, we have conducted Hatch for Good storytelling workshops with grantees around the world. The workshops are always engaging and valuable for the organizations that attend. But for capacity or other reasons, the engagement around storytelling often drops off after the workshop ends. We’ve found that ongoing, hands-on help with grantees is the best way to really elevate storytelling within those organizations. This could be anything from additional webinars to intensive engagements with grantees focused on building storytelling capacity and content.
Encourage Grantees to Make the Most of Existing Capacity
Another big takeaway from the trainings we’ve done on storytelling is that most organizations don’t spend nearly enough time engaging audiences with the content they create.
Far too much effort still goes into one-time hits like lengthy annual reports, press releases, and tweets, without consideration for how that content can be repurposed effectively to give the organization even more mileage and exposure. There are two important resources on this front that I encourage you to check out:
- The “60/40 Rule,” articulated here by Garth Moore of the ONE Campaign as spending only 40% of your time creating content, and 60% of your time engaging with audiences around that content
- Guidance on how to effectively repurpose content, from Jereme Bivins, Digital Media Manager at The Rockefeller Foundation.
Grants managers have an important role to play in elevating the practice of storytelling within foundations and among grantees. We hope this guidance is helpful, and we encourage you to share your own lessons and stories about what has worked for you, and what hasn’t.
RJ Bee is Senior Vice President at Hattaway Communications. RJ manages day-to-day operations at Hattaway and leads project teams to create research-based strategies, content and campaigns for organizations such as the Rockefeller Foundation, World Health Organization and Packard Foundation.