Where Are You in the Story Cycle?

Think back to elementary school when your teacher showed your science class a diagram that explained how water took various forms in a never ending loop. The illustration below might seem familiar, but what’s wrong with it? I think this version of the water cycle is missing one critical player — You. Human impact on the environment has evolved enough to drastically change the story of water. But that’s a whole different subject. I want to focus instead on positive transformation.

Today’s blog post from Seth Godin talks about demand – should you harvest or create?  According to Mr. Godin:

“You don’t need to persuade everyone that you have a great idea, you merely need to persuade one person. And then make it easy for that person to share.”

Key word: Share. How can your new evangelist do that? Only if you give them a story they can easily understand, be passionate about and spread. Only if they can easily make it their own. It’s still your story but in a different form that their audience (hopefully to become yours) can relate to. As your story continues to be retold, it reaches a different audience – like water taking the next step in the cycle.

The difference between your story cycle and that of water is that it stays essentially the same: two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen. On the other hand, your organization has the opportunity for real transformation with every turn in your cycle, becoming more relevant and more in sync with your growing community as their stories feed back to you and yours to them. There is one element that must be present throughout – trust. It’s what keeps the cycle going.

And it all starts with one person and your story.

Coming up in November:

November 13: Write Your Story for Video
5:30 pm – 8:30 pm
Fine Arts Building
410 S. Michigan Avenue
Chicago, IL 60605

November 15: Engage Your Donors with a Compelling Story
8:30 am – 10:00 am
Mayslake Peabody Estate
1717 W. 31st Street
Oak Brook, IL 60523
Host: West Suburban Philanthropic Network

November 16: Create Your Compelling & Memorable Elevator Pitch
11:30 am – 1:00 pm
Letizia’s Fiore Ristorante
2456 N. California Avenue
Chicago, IL 60647

Choose to Write a Bigger Story

Everywhere I go—from villages outside Kandy, Sri Lanka, to community centers in Amman, Jordan, to offices at the State Department in Washington, D.C.—I find people with a similar story. When thousands of people discover that their story is also someone else’s story, they have the chance to write a new story together. —Eboo Patel

On Wednesday, October 17, I will be watching a performance by my dear friend and neighbor Francesca Peppiatt at “Choosing to Be Here” a Storytelling Festival in a series of one-night-only performances about living in Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood—my neighborhood.

Each night a different combination of storytellers, accompanied by live music, will weave tales of community, neighborhood, fitting in, and how we connect—sometimes successfully, sometimes not.  Every night culminates in Julie Ganey’s acclaimed one-woman show “Love Thy Neighbor . . . Till it Hurts,” directed by Megan Shuchman.

A long-time Rogers Park resident, Ganey, asks: “What does it mean to be a good neighbor in a diverse community?” It’s a tenacious look at how we misunderstand, mistake and misjudge each other—and choose to live together anyway.

Sound familiar? I think these artists are on to something. It’s not just about the neighborhood. It even goes beyond community. In my view, the bigger picture is about empathywalk in my shoes as I walk in yours.

Let’s think of ourselves as a neighborhood of philanthropists, social innovators, and changemakers. It doesn’t matter how large or small, young or old our organizations are. Each of us is fighting for a worthy cause. We’re all trying to do work that truly matters. But why does it seem like too many nonprofits still go it alone? Why are there still only a few who, like a good neighbor, reach out to the agency a few blocks away and see what they both can accomplish together? Instead, why do we misunderstand, mistake and misjudge each other?

The household of a single mom with an infant and aging parent is most likely being served by three separate agencies. If they can weave their energies together to mirror the story of this household, only then will they start to realize greater desired outcomes. When organizations understand each other deeply and discover a similar story, only then will they be able to write a new story together that can profoundly change their community.

The Side Project Theater Company is hosting the festival which runs Sundays through Wednesdays until October 31st.  The Side Project is located at 1439 W. Jarvis (just east of Greenview) in Jarvis Square of Rogers Park.

For more storytelling:

The Power of Symbols
Symbols have been used to inspire change throughout history. They have embodied powerful ideas, stories, people and societies. This session uses the graphic arts to stir creative thinking about your organization’s identity and develop your own visual language that translates your story into compelling and memorable images.
Key take-away: Are the colors and pictures in your communications effectively delivering the intended message?
Teaching Artist: Lindsay Obermeyer
Thursday, October 18, 2012 – REGISTER

Write Your Story for Video
Let’s face it: The media landscape has been forever changed by the internet. Aside from social media, video is a major component in engaging your audience. Today, Youtube is the second largest search engine next to Google. When used effectively, video can not only help you rank in searches but can also compel viewers to ‘share’ your story across the web and give you and your organization the potential to reach hundreds to even millions of people interested in your cause or service. This workshop focuses on the best approach to creating content for your video campaign.
Key take-aways: (1) What aspect of your organization’s story can be best communicated through video, and (2) how do we streamline the message into a brief but memorable narrative.
Teaching Artist: Jessica Christopher
Tuesday, November 13, 2012 – REGISTER

Grantmakers and the Nonprofit Ecosystem: Part 2

In my last post, Grantmakers and the Nonprofit Ecosystem: Part 1, I shared my views on the findings of the Donors Forum 2011 Economic Outlook with regard to long-term sustainability on the nonprofit sector.

Today in Part 2, I present highlights of the panel discussion at the recent Breakin’ It Down Fundraising Program, where the speakers talked about how nonprofits can create new ways to deliver on their mission in the midst of the economic recession and government cutbacks to services. Valerie S. Lies, President and CEO of the Donors Forum, moderated the panel which consisted of Karina Ayala Bermejo, General Counsel of Metropolitan Family Services, Jonathan Brereton, CEO of Accion Chicago, and Andrea T. Mills, Director of Fiscal Management Associates, LLC.

Mills began her talk by asking the question, “Can our programs have stronger impact if we strengthen other parts of the organization?” She followed the logic of how program effectiveness cannot stand on bad financial management. Nonprofits seem to have their hands tied to proving that all funds raised goes to programs. According to Mills, we need to invest in the infrastructure that will support all efforts to create significant outcomes. Mills also mentioned what turned out to be the overarching theme of the day – collaboration. Organizations should share resources to realize efficiencies and volume savings from vendors.

Brereton told the story of how Accion had to refocus and rebuild after nine years in order to regain their strength as a high-impact microlender to small independent businesses. After doing the necessary downsizing, they began the honest conversations with all stakeholders in their community about what were essential to get Accion on a long-term sustainable path. Transparency was another recurring theme of the day. Brereton also emphasized that the efforts of the board of directors to set solid expectations in the beginning and see them through effectively got everyone marching to the beat of the right drum.

Bermejo held the attention in the room with her recounting of the conversations she participated in with Hull House in 2011. She qualified them as healthy conversations because they centered on collaboration. Hull House needed to find a new home for their critical programs and services. According to Bermejo, it was a high priority for Metropolitan Family Services to keep Hull House teams intact to maintain the integrity of their programs. Bermejo credited the due diligence of the MFS Board in matching their capacity with what came from Hull House in order to preserve the legacy of Jane Adams.

The panel discussion wrapped up with what seemed to be a shared view by many in the room: that stakeholders in finance, programs and development need to have an open dialog about their new collective narrative, what roles they can effectively play and how they can work in sync to move their story forward.

Onward to our last workshops for the year:

Take advantage of our Special Offer
Reduced rate, $45 per person and $30 for each guest you bring.
(regular rate $75)

The Power of Symbols
Symbols have been used to inspire change throughout history. They have embodied powerful ideas, stories, people and societies. This session uses the graphic arts to stir creative thinking about your organization’s identity and develop your own visual language that translates your story into compelling and memorable images.
Key take-away: Are the colors and pictures in your communications effectively delivering the intended message?
Teaching Artist: Lindsay Obermeyer
Thursday, October 18, 2012 – REGISTER

Write Your Story for Video
Let’s face it: The media landscape has been forever changed by the internet. Aside from social media, video is a major component in engaging your audience. Today, Youtube is the second largest search engine next to Google. When used effectively, video can not only help you rank in searches but can also compel viewers to ‘share’ your story across the web and give you and your organization the potential to reach hundreds to even millions of people interested in your cause or service. This workshop focuses on the best approach to creating content for your video campaign.
Key take-aways: (1) What aspect of your organization’s story can be best communicated through video, and (2) how do we streamline the message into a brief but memorable narrative.
Teaching Artist: Jessica Christopher
Tuesday, November 13, 2012 – REGISTER

Grantmakers and the Nonprofit Ecosystem

Last week’s Breakin’ It Down Fundraising Program, featured a panel discussion about how nonprofits can create new ways to deliver on their mission in the midst of the economic recession and government cutbacks to services. Valerie S. Lies, President and CEO of the Donors Forum, moderated the panel which consisted of Karina Ayala Bermejo, General Counsel of Metropolitan Family Services, Jonathan Brereton, CEO of Accion Chicago, and Andrea T. Mills, Director of Fiscal Management Associates, LLC.

Lies began the session by describing the current state of affairs as indicated in the Donors Forum’s Economic Outlook 2011: Signs of Recovery but Challenges Persist. What struck me from this report as potentially having the most impact on nonprofits and the people they serve is the suggestion from grantmakers for consolidation of the sector to increase long-term sustainability.

In my view, mergers and any kind of restructuring will not only change how the organization operates in its resulting form; they will also affect how sector leaders can effectively promote innovation. Real outcomes don’t come from one-size-fits-all solutions. Real social impact springs from having made choices that are relevant and specific for a person in a particular situation.

The most serious change will be on the nonprofit’s social fabric in which their mission is deeply rooted. They would have to unravel what brought them together as a community. With their identity dissolving and their voice fading, what’s left is the hope that people will keep their mission alive and continue to tell their story. On the other hand, the entire sector still has a collective narrative we need to tell. What kind of story will evolve from a culture of consolidation?

The Economic Outlook summary does end on a brighter note – one that promotes collaboration:

“…the general preference is to focus on improving the capacities of individual organizations, influencing the sector through “modeling” of “best practices,” and collaborative relationships between grantmakers and nonprofits.”

Yes, there is limited funding available. Therefore, grantmakers can make the most bang for the buck by investing strategically to change the ecosystem and make it more supportive for organizations to deliver on their mission. This is an essential role to play in the collective narrative. Only then can we begin to tell a story about real sustainability.

Next week: Part 2 with highlights of the panel discussion.

Take advantage of our Special Offer
Reduced rate on our last workshop for the year.
$45 per person and $30 for each guest you bring.
(regular rate $75)

Write Your Story for Video
Let’s face it: The media landscape has been forever changed by the internet. Aside from social media, video is a major component in engaging your audience. Today, Youtube is the second largest search engine next to Google. When used effectively, video can not only help you rank in searches but can also compel viewers to ‘share’ your story across the web and give you and your organization the potential to reach hundreds to even millions of people interested in your cause or service. This workshop focuses on the best approach to creating content for your video campaign.
Key take-aways: (1) What aspect of your organization’s story can be best communicated through video, and (2) how do we streamline the message into a brief but memorable narrative.
Teaching Artist: Jessica Christopher
Tuesday, November 13, 2012 – REGISTER