For more than two years, we’ve been helping social impact organizations become storytelling organizations through (the recently revamped) Hatch for Good.
Philanthropy plays a critical role in helping social impact organizations tell stories more effectively. And many foundations are already investing in strategic storytelling—including The Rockefeller Foundation, the supporter of Hatch for Good.
And as more and more foundations start to focus on storytelling as a way to increase the impact of their work (and their grantees’ work), we’ve noticed a few big patterns that have emerged. First we outline a few of the internal process challenges, then address what we’ve seen in terms of developing stories and engaging audiences with content. We’ve included some guidance that could help philanthropies integrate storytelling into their work more seamlessly.
- You’re Gonna Have to Bust Some Silos. Although some foundations are making strides in breaking down silos to create storytelling organizations, most philanthropies aren’t there yet. Foundations must develop systems for how to work with colleagues and grantees on story identification, story collection, production and engagement. (Please see here for our take on what a storytelling organization looks like.) For your foundation, it may make sense to identify ONE program and ONE communications staffer that can pilot an approach to identify solutions that work for that organization and its grantees.
- Get Senior Management Visibly Engaged. In fact, this goes for both philanthropic and social impact organizations. For storytelling to really become a core part of an organization’s culture, the senior managers have to be supportive of the effort. We say “visibly,” because the entire organization must see that this is a leadership priority. Check out this piece from Neill Coleman, VP of Global Communications at The Rockefeller Foundation, on how to make the case for investing in storytelling within your organization.
- Carrots? Yes. Sticks? Yes. Since we launched Hatch for Good, we’ve come to the conclusion that foundations need both carrots (incentives) and sticks (requirements) to get grantees to participate actively in storytelling efforts. Some foundations have considered working story creation/collection into grant requirements, while others have sponsored storytelling contests to help create incentives. A contest with a small operating grant is enough to inspire many grantees to create and submit stories—as long as there’s a clear sense of requirements and expectations.
- Stories Exist—The Challenge is Narrowing It Down. Through workshops on Hatch for Good, including the one at ComNet15, it’s become increasingly clear that organizations aren’t short on stories. In fact, deciding which stories to focus on and which characters to highlight is a real challenge to most people. We have suggested many times that organizations shouldn’t try to “do it all” in one story—but instead think about using the Social Impact Story Map to develop a series of stories that all help to reinforce the organizations’ overall narrative framework.
- Grantees Need Help on Engagement. This may seem like an obvious one, but, as Garth Moore of the ONE Campaign points out in his article on the “60/40 Rule,” most organizations don’t spend nearly enough time on engaging audiences with the content they create.
Far too much effort still goes into one-time hits like lengthy reports, press releases, and tweets—without consideration for how that content can be repurposed effectively to give the organization even more mileage and exposure. For more guidance on how to effectively repurpose content, see this post by Jereme Bivins, Digital Media Manager at The Rockefeller Foundation.
There is still a lot of (legitimate) buzz about storytelling, and many foundations and social impact organizations are making progress. But we all still have a long way to go. We hope this helps provide some food for thought for how to further build your organization’s storytelling efforts.
RJ Bee is Senior Vice President at Hattaway Communications.
- The Heritage Foundation published an entire report on Medium – turning a series of posts into a single destination.
- Medium essentially functioned as a microsite – but one that required little design or setup.
- Traffic and engagement increased, and Heritage did not have to rely on less-accessible formats like PDFs.
The PDF is dying. Study after study (some of them published as PDFs) have shown that the format just isn’t working. Many will remember the much-discussed World Bank analysis, which showed 517 of its reports were never downloaded (warning: that link is to a PDF report). The format that allowed us to print and attach documents easily just doesn’t work for readers in an era of countless devices and platforms.
So when The Heritage Foundation sought to publish our 2015 Index of Culture and Opportunity, we knew we needed a different approach.
…this is the first time an organization has published an entire, multi-chapter, multi-part report to [Medium].
Now in its second year, the Index looks at key indicators of the state of our society – everything from the rate of volunteerism to the portion of GDP taken by government taxes. Some of these indicators are paired with essays and analysis from experts at Heritage and beyond.
The Index has a wealth of valuable data, but its original format (a print book and PDF) makes it hard to digest. We doubted that many of those who received the book read through a majority of it.
And what about those who were interested in just a few of the data points, or even a single indicator? Asking them to read through an entire book to get the information they need is simply unrealistic. We knew that if we didn’t make the information easy to use and find, our audience would look elsewhere.
Our solution was to publish the 2015 Index entirely on Medium. This was a novel concept. Medium has been used by many in the political space – and beyond – to publish articles and commentary. Just recently, Hillary Clinton published a series of posts including one on her college savings plan. But to our knowledge, and as confirmed by our friends at Medium, this is the first time an organization has published an entire, multi-chapter, multi-part report to the platform.
We started by designing the individual article pages. We decided on a consistent image style, the headers, section spacing, placement of the charts, and the page hierarchy. Then, we mapped out the connections between each article, selecting a sequencing approach that would allow each user to seamlessly reach the next article in the report. In short, we approached publishing to Medium much in the same way we would the information architecture process on a bespoke website.
But a series of article pages wasn’t enough. We needed to tie together the articles into sections so that users interested in a particular type of data would be able to browse easily. We accomplished that by simply turning the Medium article page functionality into a section homepage, adding links, header images, and an overview. You can see the section landing page for the Poverty & Dependence section here.
To bring it all together we still needed a single destination – a homepage or landing page where users could see what the Index was about and explore its content. To accomplish that, we set up a Medium “publication.” Formerly called “collections” on the platform, these publication pages pull in articles and allow an editor to lay them out on a page in a variety of sections, orders, and layouts.
The PDF is still available for those who need it (though few have downloaded it so far). Visitors to Heritage.org/culture are automatically taken to the report on Medium, and users of Heritage.org can easily find links and pathways to the Index. But the Index itself lives only on the Medium platform.
The end result was exactly what we were looking for: a de-facto microsite that looks and functions as well as a custom-built destination. Sure, many of the design decisions such as those around fonts and colors were made by Medium’s template. But we got a visually-stunning, fully-responsive website. And we got it up and running using zero web development resources, and in less than a week from setup to launch.
Sure, there will still be projects and content for which we want to build a dedicated digital destination. I doubt we have done away with the microsite for good. Still, the performance of the Index speaks volumes. Over 20,000 views of the Index’s articles and section pages in under 30 days. Visitors arriving from Google, Facebook, Twitter, and even from other pages on Medium. Just as importantly, the Index was easy to view and use for users across devices.
We can confidently say that publishing a report on Medium was a worthwhile endeavor. It also doesn’t hurt moving even further away from the trap of the long PDF.
Ory Rinat spearheads digital strategy for The Heritage Foundation and its publication, The Daily Signal. Prior to joining Heritage, he helped launch Atlantic Media Strategies, the digital consultancy of The Atlantic. Previously, Ory was National Journal‘s Director of Special Projects. Ory has served as the research director on a United States Senate race, and led a national coalition on a presidential campaign. He is a graduate of Columbia University in New York and has a JD from Georgetown University.
The internet is awash in bots.
You probably run into at least a dozen every day. Think of the commenting bot that shouts YOU can make $$MONEY$$ from your VERY OWN HOME!!!. Or maybe the Twitter bot that retweets everything your organization posts. Just take a peek at the entirety of your email spam box. There are even bots that can write journalism and poetry, even if they haven’t entirely crossed the uncanny valley yet.
A hallmark of my time supporting research and evaluation at Knight Foundation has been a close working relationship with our communications team. This partnership has been a key ingredient for the development and dissemination of a series of successful reports Knight has published in recent years. So when I recently encountered a Communications Network blog post lamenting the challenged relationship between evaluation people and communications people, I felt compelled to speak out on behalf of the way our teams have partnered at Knight.
As a young political staffer, I felt like I ruled the world the first day I arrived at an event for my boss. My job as Press Secretary to a Governor was to set the scene, ensure all logistics were in place before his arrival, and – most importantly – make sure the media was writing the story we were laying out for them. As the last pieces were put in place with meticulous detail and I began making my rounds to the awaiting members of the media to plant the frame of the day in their heads and in their notebooks, an out-of-control car came careening through my carefully planned event stage, hit the embankment that was to serve as our backdrop, and went airborne into a train station across the street.