Nonprofit employees, are you forgetting to tell your story?

Melinda Lewis-Edits-0004 copy.jpgBy Melinda Lewis, associate professor of practice in the KU School of Social Welfare; consultant to area nonprofits around social services and social change

In advocacy, we talk about ‘message’ a lot. We’re exhorted to remember to ‘stay on message’. We’re given talking points that are supposed to distill our message into sound bites. We’re asked to condense our communications to the most essential message. And yet we seldom have the tools we need to build really effective messages, versatile enough to meet our every communication challenge, robust enough to withstand the cycles of policy change, flexible enough to work for different messengers, complex enough to be authentic, but simple enough to work.

We know, on some level, how very important shaping the message surrounding our advocacy issues is, understanding that dictating the story told about our issue is most of the battle, but we have trouble translating what we know needs to be said about our issue into a message that can permeate today’s cluttered information landscape.

Similarly, every nonprofit has a story to tell. Our marketing instincts and desire for others to understand our work have increased nonprofit storytelling in recent years, with narratives now sprinkled through annual reports and highlighted at fundraising events. But few organizations are cultivating, harvesting, and deploying their stories as effectively as they could, particularly when it comes to the purpose for which stories are arguably best suited: to increase identification with our cause and invite others to journey with us toward a more promising vision of our shared future.

Perhaps the story most overlooked in nonprofit organizations is that of the staff who have committed themselves to a particular agency, issue, or population. Employees are often quick to assert that it’s not their story that matters, it's the stories of the people the organization serve. What we forget is that others need to hear our stories about why this work matters to us, so that they can imagine why it might, similarly, matter to them, too.

To help organizations craft advocacy messages that tell compelling stories and move their work forward, the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City and REACH Healthcare Foundation are offering a hands-on workshop on Thursday, September 11, 2014, from 8:30-11:30AM at the Kauffman Conference Center.

We’ll share examples of how nonprofit storytelling can be integrated into direct social services and standard organizational communication. We’ll talk about why messaging matters and how messages can go wrong. We will create tools to simultaneously simplify and enhance your advocacy messages. We’ll practice telling stories that remind you of why you’ve made this work your own. We will discuss what makes a good advocacy story, how to use data and narrative to complement each other, and how to mold messages for different opportunities and purposes while keeping a consistent focus. We will listen to each other’s stories, provide honest feedback to help us all improve, and discover where our messages align.

Come with your questions about what would make your messages better, and leave ready to tell your story to all who need to hear it, as only you can.

This event is free, but we ask that you please register as space is limited.



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HCF's Local Health Buzz Blog aims to discuss health and health policy issues that impact the uninsured and underserved in our service area. To submit a blog, please contact HCF Communications Officers, Jennifer Sykes, at



About Bridget's Blog

Bridget McCandless

Bridget McCandless, MD, MBA, FACP, HCF President/CEO

Bridget McCandless is the President/CEO of the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City and is a Board Certified Internal Medicine Specialist with an interest in chronic disease management and poverty medicine. She shares her thoughts and perspectives on health and policy issues that impact the health of the community as a whole.

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