Last week I was invited to give a keynote plenary session at the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Adolescent Pregnancy Programs AFL Care Grantee Annual Conference in San Antonio, Texas.
This year's conference focused on Planning and Innovating for Reform. Because the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act brings a new landscape of considerations for policy makers, program planners, and service providers of pregnant and parenting adolescents, AFL Care grantees have an unprecedented opportunity to direct the field of adolescent pregnancy by building the pool of evidence for effective programming through their demonstration projects. One of the ways grantees can do this is by capturing and sharing success stories of their work.
John Snow, Inc. asked me to share some of my storytelling experience with the grantees in hopes that they would be inspired to better document and share the important work that they do and the impact they have in their communities. Like a lot of groups involved in making change, the grantees work incredibly hard and wear a lot of hats, which makes it hard sometimes to set aside time to capture and celebrate real-life anecdotes from the people they serve. However, I find that if you begin publicizing your organization's desire to capture stories (and that message comes from the top) and provide staff with the tools and training they need to do it well, you'll often end up with more content than you anticipated. It also helps when you empower your stakeholders, partners and beneficiaries to do the legwork for you by inviting them to share their experiences.
These kinds of initiatives make for great messaging whether you're developing your annual report or talking about your programs on your organization's web site. Most importantly, stories bring your audience to the frontlines with you on your journey, and make all involved feel closer to the work that you do, and invested in your success. They also provide great fodder for the media!
My 45-minute session focused on the nuts and bolts of storytelling as a communications strategy:
- Why storytelling is important to organizations.
- How organizations can build the storytelling culture into their DNA.
- How to capture a story effectively.
- How to write a good story and inspire ACTION.
- And, ways in which organizations can leverage their stories to generate donorship and rally program stakeholders.
The grantees were very receptive of the discussion and several people came up to me afterwards to ask questions and talk about some of the struggles they face in their organizations when they've tried similar initiatives. We brainstormed ideas and talked about best practices for interviewing sensitive subjects.
It was clear that people understood the importance of sharing their work in the current funding climate and were interested in seeking out creative ways to achieve buy-in from leaders. I hope that in the coming months we'll start to see lots of great stories emerging from these groups and I'm honored that I was asked to join them in supporting their important work.