Does Your Nonprofit Have a Story-Telling Culture?

Communications Consultant Andy Goodman makes his living by advising organizations, both for-profit and nonprofit, on how to tell their story effectively.  Actually, it’s six stories.  Andy recommends that every organization develop its own “lore” by having a collection of six different types stories to call upon.  One of these is the Creation Story.  As all nonprofits come into being somehow, this month we have chosen to highlight the creation of a local nonprofit as it approaches an important anniversary.

On January 12, 2010, Vicki Brentin and five fellow Rotarians from Houston landed in Haiti to assess the status of a hospital in Port-au-Prince. They had gone to determine how best to share Houston’s vast health care resources, hoping to help Haiti strengthen its fragile medical infrastructure in a long-term, sustainable way. What happened on that fact-finding trip became international news.

A flight delay due to some lost luggage resulted in the group’s late arrival. As a result, they were driving in an open area between the airport and their hospital destination when the earthquake hit. For the four days that followed, these stranded travelers found themselves rummaging for supplies and responding to catastrophic circumstances as best they could, meanwhile marveling at the beauty and bravery of Haitians who marched through the streets singing, in an attempt to bring solace to the injured and dying.

Upon her return, Vicki said that she had experienced “sights, sounds, smells that I will never get out of my mind”. From her steadfast resolve to help the Haitians, along with that of several medical personnel and dedicated volunteers, the nonprofit Houston Haiti Recovery Initiative (HHRI) was formed. In addition, she and Rotarian John Collier are leading a joint initiative with HHRI to develop a biomedical training and repair project, which will promote both vocational education and economic enterprise.

Working in partnership with Project Medishare through the University of Miami, HHRI organizes teams who bring medical and surgical supplies, equipment, and critical services to Haitian patients. Each team consists of surgeons, nurses, anesthesiologists, therapists, and support personnel who stay for one week and work alongside Haitian health care workers. From January 21-29, 2011, an HHRI team will go to Port-au-Prince to work in the Bernard Mevs Hospital. (You can also find HHRI on FaceBook under Houston Haiti Recovery Initiative.)

HHRI was created in response to a natural disaster by people who witnessed and could not ignore the suffering of individuals so close by. What is your nonprofit’s Creation Story? Was there a pivotal incident or person(s) whose vision and leadership provided the template for what you do today? Do you celebrate/commemorate these events or people in any way? Is this information posted prominently on your website? Could your staff and volunteers tell a potential donor how and why your nonprofit was born?

Think about starting 2011 by refining your stories. (To learn about the other 5 stories that Andy Goodman suggests are necessary for “Building a Story-Telling Culture”, we recommend watching his free, hour-long web seminar on storytelling.) Then, tell them in as many ways and as many places as you can.

Happy story telling! See you in February.

nonprofit storytelling culture grant funding.jpg
videosRichard Beeman