Non-profit storytelling and what stories shouldn’t be told?

innovative leadership bookLately, I’ve been doing a lot of reading. I’m about halfway through Amy Cuddy’s book “Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges.” I just purchased Tim Wolfred’s book “Managing Executive Transitions: A Guide for Nonprofits.” And I just finished Maureen Metcalf and Dani Robbin’s “Innovative Leadership Workbook for Nonprofit Executives.” I love reading because it always gets me thinking, and this last workbook by Metcalf and Robbins has my head spinning (in a good way).

Metcalf’s “innovative leadership” model is really good. One thing I like most about the workbook is the journaling exercises. Your journal work is designed to help you think through and discover intentions, actions, organizational culture and systems/processes questions prior to developing your individual developmental plan. If you are in the market for a leadership development process, I suggest you check this out.

With the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference looming on the horizon, the idea of storytelling has been on my mind. A lot lately! My mind has been swimming with questions like:

  • What are storytelling best practices?
  • How have I seen organizations place donors in the roll of being the “hero” when telling a story?
  • What emotional triggers are best for fundraising professionals to use when telling a story aimed at raising money?

These questions are all focused on what stories to tell; however, one of the journaling questions I came across in the Innovative Leadership Workbook for Nonprofit Executives was really good because it got me thinking in the reverse direction:

What stories of the past do we need to stop telling because they no longer support our success?

Wow! This is such a great question.

I cannot count the number of times I’ve seen brand new non-profit CEO’s in their first or second year telling stories about how bad (or dysfunctional) the organization was when they first started.

By going down this road, they are essentially telling donors and volunteers their contribution of time/money might not have been used appropriately. The impact, of course, may very well be increasing suspicion and concern and raising the bar for future support.

I’ve also seen new non-profit CEO’s inadvertently do the same thing in front of staff, and what kind of message does that send to employees? (e.g. You were wrong to support the previous CEO? Or worse yet, you were part of the problem?

While identifying your organization’s stories have you identified what stories shouldn’t be told? Or have you identified stories that might have served a purpose in the past, but have outlived their usefulness, and need to stop being told? Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts and experiences. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

About DonorDreams

Erik got his start working in the non-profit field immediately upon graduation with his masters degree in 1994. His non-profit management and fundraising experience numbers nearly 20 years. His teachable point of view around resource development is influenced by the work of Penelope Burk and those professionals subscribing to a "donor centered" paradigm. Donors have dreams and it is our responsibility to be dream-makers because donors are not ATMs.

Posted on September 1, 2016, in nonprofit. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Thank you Erik! I have a story on that very topic. I once took over an agency; when I was meeting with its constituents, a guy told me a story about the former Exec keeping a bottle of booze in his desk drawer. As soon as he finished speaking I said “I’m going to have to ask you to stop telling that story.”

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