How Great Stories Make For Great Content

A few weeks ago Vanessa Chase, a fundraising and communications strategist based in Vancouver reached out to profile Furniture Bank’s storytelling efforts on her blog.

We’re so pleased how the post turned out that we want to share it with our FB community.

So without further to do…

Learn From Furniture Bank – How Great Stories Make for Great Content

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Originally posted in Vanessa Chase’s The Storytelling Non-Profit Blog on August 18, 2014

There are a lot of non-profit organizations out there that provide pretty unique services and programs, which can require more explanation. Furniture Bank could be one of those organizations, but instead they tell great stories that communicate their impact and inspire their community.

Furniture Bank transfers gently used furniture and household goods donated by individuals or corporations to people who are in need of a fresh start. Today Communications and Fundraising Coordinator, Noah Kravitz, gives us the inside scoop on telling great stories, navigating client confidentiality and content strategy.

Furniture Bank is a pretty unique organization. How do you use stories to help people understand what you do?

Often first contact someone makes with Furniture Bank is to arrange a furniture pickup for items they want to donate. These individuals are often in a stage of their life when they are downsizing, moving or just spring cleaning and have a need to get rid of their gently-used furniture, fast! Our furniture donors are not always aware exactly what happens with their old furniture after it has been donated. That is where our online storytelling efforts kick in.

Our stories are meant to educate our donors (current and prospective) on exactly what happens with their donated furniture after it has been donated to Furniture Bank (redistributed to refugees and new immigrants to Canada, women and children coming out of abusive situations and the formerly homeless). We also tell heartwarming client and volunteer stories that happen at the Furniture Bank with the intention of inspiring community members to donate furniture and/or join our volunteer team. Here are some storytelling examples that have really helped to educate and inspire people of our mission.

Do you have a process for collecting and documenting stories? Can you tell us a bit about it?

Since content marketing and actively trying to tell our clients’ stories is still a relatively new priority for Furniture Bank, we are still honing our processes for collecting and documenting impactful stories.

Tactics we have used so far which are now becoming mainstays in the larger storytelling process include:

  • Encouraging a storytelling culture within the organization – inviting staff, volunteers, donors and program participants to share stories and experiences which have touched their lives – even if it includes just jotting down a few points for our communications coordinator to transcribe.
  • Implementing an editorial calendar to keep staff “in the know” and engaged with our storytelling efforts
  • Making sure that we let staff and volunteers know that there are REAL outcomes behind our storytelling efforts by sharing with them metrics/analytics around post views, actions taken as a result of the posts and overall ROI

Recently, we found an awesome dollhouse with mini handcrafted furniture items. What we are encouraging our staff and volunteers to do is after clients select furniture, they take a photo with a “mini” furniture item in hand to symbolize the real life furniture they selected. It’s an opportunity to receive heartwarming content, tell stories and also protect the identity of our clients.

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What mediums have worked best or been most successful for sharing Furniture Bank stories?

I would have to say our blog has been the most successful for sharing Furniture Bank’s stories. We use our blog to tell client stories, update constituents on new projects and initiatives and as an overall hub for all news related to Furniture Bank. We have specific categories related to different operations in order to make it more manageable for our constituents to navigate content (social impactvolunteerssocial enterpriseworkshop, etc.)

Since launching our blog equipped with a content marketing strategy, we have seen our website traffic steadily increase translating into additional support – new partnerships, more interested volunteers and an increase in furniture donations.

Do you ever find that you come up against issues of confidentiality when you want to tell stories about Furniture Bank clients? What have you done to navigate them?

Like many organizations, issues do come up when attempting to collect and tell stories about our clients. However, at Furniture Bank, they are not necessarily linked to confidentiality.

We work with 70+ partner agencies who refer furniture recipients to Furniture Bank. When a client comes in for their appointment (shopping experience) they are only with us for approximately 1 hour. This makes it difficult to collect stories in such short period of time. On top of that, think about all the feelings and emotions clients are experiencing when they come through our doors associated with choosing furniture and household items for their new homes (pleasure, excitement, apprehensive, nervous… the list goes on). Asking them to share their story on top of this and the emotions it may evoke can be overwhelming for clients we support.

Of course when there is a client that moves our hearts, we will respectfully ask on-site if they would like to share their story and talk about their Furniture Bank experience. However, our staff and volunteers are always exploring new ways to collect and tell our client stories without having them feel overwhelmed the day of their appointment.

One method in which we have been able to accomplish this is telling client stories through the gently-used furniture they select, using furniture items as a vehicle to tell their story. We also strongly encourage our volunteers to reflect and share stories about clients that they assist who had an emotional impact on them with respect to client confidentiality see stories from question 1 for examples).

One tactic we are exploring that we feel can really help to engage clients in storytelling is setting up a communication loop in which we touch base with clients a week or two after their appointment. This will hopefully give furniture recipients the opportunity to settle in with their new furniture items, and appropriate time to reflect on the impact that their new furniture has had on their lives, and then inviting them to share their story. Stay tuned for updates on this strategy…

Any tips or lessons learned that you’d like to share with fellow non-profit storytellers?

Making a conscious effort tell your organization’s story and developing an organizational culture that embraces storytelling does not happen overnight. You need to be persistent with your front line people, actively encouraging them to share their experiences with you. After you publish, you need to show your “content creators” that there is real bottom-line impact for the organization by the stories they author and help create in order to further their engagement in the storytelling process (being transparent with your analytics). Also, providing these people with samples and simple ideas that will translate into stories that educates, inspires and entertains to help guide them in content creation.

– Vanessa