Keeping Your Nonprofit Relevant with Engagement and Storytelling

November 26, 2019 Joe Gianoni

“But what have you done for me lately?”

While a phrase I personally find a bit crass, as a resident of New York City, I am constantly reminded however of its truth and poignancy. Every week there seems to be new restaurants, clothing stores, entertainment venues… you name it, that are popping up in locations I’ve long known as something else. The places that always seem to last the longest are the businesses that manage to connect with their community and neighborhoods in unique ways.

While New York may represent a microcosm of this process, it remains no less true for organizations and brands in all sectors across the globe including, you guessed it, social good. In episode 121 of the sgENGAGE Podcast, How Save the Children is Evolving to Meet New Demands Catherine LaCour, CMO of Blackbaud interviews Janti Soeripto, COO & president of Save the Children U.S., on what it takes to keep such a long standing and well-known organization relevant through today’s fast paced and technology-dependent world. Throughout the interview, Janti expresses how Save the Children’s community ties and supporter engagement strategies are two of the biggest factors in how the organization has been able to continue on as a household name and realize its mission over the last hundred years.

Here are some specific takeaways from the episode:

 

Engagement:

  • A benefit of being a hundred-year-old organization is having the time to develop connections that continue to spur your organization onward. Janti specifies that the relationships built over time in local communities is critical to sustainable change. Many of their own staff or government officials they work with across the world have been in their programs or volunteers for them at some point in their lives.
  • When engaging local communities, it is vital to meet them where they are on their issues. Though the overall mission of the organization may align with the people, in order to get them interested and participating you need to connect with their specific concerns. Coming out with your brand ahead of the mission is a great way to lose the attention of supporters.
  • Having the right technology to power your organization frees up your people’s thought and time which can be applied to creating or enhancing engagement strategies rather than doing things like reconciling financials or manually segmenting audiences for new campaigns. Placing a value on efficiency will translate to greater mission outcomes.

 

Storytelling:

  • Don’t fall back on brand reliance. This gets harder to do the older your organization gets and you build up strategies that have worked over the years. The cultural pulse changes over time and so too must your storytelling strategy. It is necessary to keep in mind that what has worked over the last 100 years will not propel you through the next hundred, or what happened last year will not propel through this one. You can also learn more about storytelling strategy in the sgENGAGE Podcast Episode 116: Storytelling 101.
  • People connect with individual stories more than macro data, though the latter is typically used to tell the successes of an organization’s outcomes. The trick is to figure out a way to bring the individual stories to life and connect them to the impact made on a larger scale.
  • Internally, the story must be told the right way as well. Plenty of organizations collect massive amounts of technical data that they pour over repeatedly. But not all organizations have the correct avenues to communicate the data between the technical analysts and the teams that are actively engaging and telling the story to the organization’s supporters. Teams can be surrounded and buried in certain messages that seem obvious to them, but only because they are surrounded and buried by it. Internal communications have to be clear in order for the story you’re telling to make sense to anyone on the outside.

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