Making the Case to Invest in Story

6 campaign strategies to deliver a win for storytelling in your organization.

As a communications leader in your organization, the need for a greater investment in storytelling may seem compelling. Self-evident even. But the leadership of your organization may need more convincing.

Neill Coleman
twitter.com/neillcoleman

Neill leads The Rockefeller Foundation’s global communications team in New York, Bangkok and Nairobi. He is focused on how the Foundation can pioneer new ways to hear and share innovative ideas and perspectives on serving the needs of poor or vulnerable people in a time of rapid change.

To deliver a win for storytelling in your organization, think of making the case as a campaign. You need to be the “Vote for Story” campaign manager. Here’s the campaign manual.

Research your opponent

There probably aren’t many story-haters in your organization, or if there are, they likely harbor their dislike of tales in secret. But successful storytelling requires an investment of time and resources, cultural shifts and additional staff requirements. Your biggest opponent is probably not the storyphobes, but leaders with a tight budget and competing priorities.

Identify your supporters

Who are your allies? Who do you need to convince? Who may have a competing priority?

Your CEO is likely to be a power-user of stories, as he or she is the person with the most speeches, media interviews and funder conversations.

Then consider your colleagues—how can you convince them that an investment in storytelling can help advance THEIR function? Perhaps the human resources director will see the value of storytelling for staff pride. The development director can be energized by having compelling stories to share with funders. And make sure you have buy-in from your colleagues in the legal department. The more allies you have, the stronger your campaign to Vote for Story will be.

Prepare your stump speech

Find examples from comparable organizations with effective storytelling efforts. Envy is a powerful force, so make your leadership a bit jealous and humor their desire for your organization to be seen as cutting-edge as the competition is. Reach out to your peers, and ask them what has worked for them.

Nurture your fundraisers

Your board is focused at a strategic level, and they will want to know why storytelling is a good investment and why it will deliver more impact than an alternative use of time or resources. You need to show them how storytelling connects to the organization’s overall strategy, as well as demonstrate why it needs to be a priority. Choose your examples with this in mind. One caution: Be realistic in the claims you make for what storytelling can achieve.

Get out the stories

Demonstrate to your leadership that if they give the go-ahead, you can make storytelling work. The effort will need an owner—likely you or someone else on the communications team. Identify internal champions, and be clear what will be expected of other staff so the work doesn’t all fall to the communications team.

You might consider establishing a searchable online storybank so people can access and use stories easily. Prepare a budget that factors in training and technology needs, and make sure you build those costs into your proposal. By consistently sharing stories, it will help you make your case for Vote for Story.

Read the polls

You may face concerns that the impacts of storytelling are fluffy or nebulous. But if you present a specific plan—with metrics—to measure and evaluate the storytelling work, you will instill confidence. But, don’t wait for the evaluation to be complete before you start sharing successes—keep your leadership informed from the start.

And of course, as you prepare your case, identify a story that will capture hearts and minds, or that has already helped achieve impact. This will encourage your leadership to say, “We need more stories like that.”

With these six campaign strategies—and a great story—your storytelling campaign can be victorious.

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