Using Stories

Last month we found ways to collect narratives that tell your organization’s story and today we discuss the best ways to use them.

Client stories, quotes, and testimonials are extremely important pieces of information that should be shared with anyone who supports your mission.  How, when, and where you use client stories can be just as important as the story itself. When selecting or collecting stories consider the following:

How will the narrative be used? The level of detail and key elements should vary depending on your intended use. Some examples include

  • Detailed description of an example in a conversation with a funder
  • Summary of examples in an annual report or newsletter
  • Story to support a grant application
  • Anecdotes to include in public speeches or small group discussions
  • Examples to present to a Board meeting for discussion of program priorities
  • Evidence for internal discussions among staff to improve program performance

What are you trying to convey?  Are you looking for “testimonials” focusing on positive impacts, or do you want to gather more balanced examples of where your program has and has not been effective? For internal improvement purposes, testimonials may be less useful than identifying examples where you did not make a difference. Asking questions in a neutral and balanced way increases the chances of learning more about your program, and gives the reader/listener more confidence and trust in the stories.

Which aspect of your organization do you want to highlight? You may want narratives about particular programs, or about particular aspects of each program. If so, ask more specific questions to elicit these stories. If you want examples of how you were emotionally supportive, ask clients whether this occurred and to discuss specific ways in which that happened.

Who are the best people to provide the specific types of examples you want? Is the client the best observer of the effects of your intervention, or might a volunteer, colleague, or one of your staff members be a better informant? Who is the best person to be aware of and to document the specific linkage between what you did and the outcome?