Making Your Story Matter

Today, I led a breakout session on idea development at the Creative Nonfiction / Heinz Foundation workshop “Making Your Story Matter,” designed to help non-profit organizations brainstorm the kinds of stories they might want to tell.

Below are links to several sample non-profit stories from that I think are successful; for each, I’ve identified the type of story, as well as tried to highlight some of the key elements the story contains. These are mostly to give today’s breakout session participants an idea of what a finished version of the stories we brainstormed today might look like, but I’m sure anyone could take inspiration from these stories. I tried to include stories in a variety of media, so organizations can imagine how to tell their own story across multiple platforms, including web copy, video, and even social media.

African Men Hollywood Stereotypes” from Mama Hope, an organization that fights poverty through the support of community-led projects across Africa, Asia, and the Americas.

This video is a great example of a challenge story, in that it demonstrates the stereotypes that African men have to struggle against in order to be taken seriously. By focusing on four specific young men, the video gives us viewers people to connect to, and lots of examples of the obstacles they face. Best of all, it actually has a sense of humor!

Crossing the Rubicon” from Team Rubicon, an organization that brings together first responders and military veterans to offer on-the-ground humanitarian relief in the wake of a crisis or disaster.

This is a lengthier story that weaves together the organization’s origin story, along with several values stories, each of which speaks to how the organization works to support veterans and first responders. You’ll note as you read that each section of the story focuses first and foremost in a real person, and situates that person in a specific time and place, and then sets them on a journey full of both internal and external obstacles. Eventually, all these journeys come together as part of Team Rubicon.

Instagram account for Liberty in North Korea (an organization that helps rescue and resettle North Korean refugees and empower them to tell their stories)

An Instagram or other social media account is really an opportunity to tell many stories in short form; this one provides examples of several types of stories, but I find their success stories especially impactful. Most of the photos that are portraits of people are accompanied by a two or three sentence story about how this person’s life has changed since escaping North Korea, giving viewers a concrete example of a specific success in each such post.

Imagine a World Without Hate” from the Anti-Defamation League, an organization focused on fighting anti-Semitism

This story doesn’t quite fit the journey model we discussed, but it does focus on a handful of specific people and communicates its powerful message by changing the time and place in which we’d expect to see those people. This is a great example of how a story of the world you envision can be strengthened by placing people in the center.


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