10.19 Past, Present, Future

I’ve been thinking a lot about storytelling these days – the stories we tell ourselves, the stories we tell about our work, the way stories about the world are shaped and the stories we share to engage greater giving.  I’ve been reading The Power of Story by Jim Loehr.  He works in the corporate sector but the tools are transferable.  Much of what he says seems like common sense but actually working through the steps can be a powerful aid to reframing.  Loehr maintains that individuals and organizations have old stories that are not serving us. He recommends a series of steps for getting a hold of and reshaping the stories that are driving our actions:

1. Look carefully at the current (read “old”) stories you tell about your work, very much informed by the past.  For both individuals and organizations, it’s important to actually write down the old story.  Be as honest as possible.

Our organization started with advocacy around immigrant rights; organizing was an “add on” and has always been secondary.  We have fewer organizing staff and they aren’t as well respected or listened to.  The organizers are angry about not being heard but they haven’t done much about it.   And the advocacy staff and organizing staff aren’t nearly as in sync as they need to be. As a result, fundraising efforts have been more fragmented than necessary.  We don’t have a coherent strategy and that’s coming across in our appeals to both grassroots and major donors.

2.  Can you achieve your goals with the story you’ve got? Does the story reflect the truth?  Does it stimulate you to take action? Does the story allow you to gather enough energy to move into the future you want to create?  What assumptions is the old story based on?

We want to raise an additional $30,000 for organizing so we can expand our work into more rural areas.  The old story doesn’t really convey the importance of this for the whole organization, its mission and current realities.  Our donors really care about these issues and many of them will be more likely to make an additional gift for the rural strategy if they understand how that will feed back into the advocacy work.

3.  If the old story seems inadequate it’s time to craft a new story. What is the story you want to tell about the work?  What’s the story that will keep you and others energized regardless of external forces?  Write it down.

Organizing is a newer and vital arm of the organization.  Without it, we couldn’t have packed the state legislature on the day when the community college bill came up for a vote.  Our numbers and strength will continue to grow and this will inform future strategy.  The organization values the organizers at every turn, validating the information they bring to the table. It’s the right time to be raising additional funds because an increased effort in two rural counties will only strengthen our statewide presence and allow for some action that’s more directly engaging two state representatives.

4.  Embed the new story into your life and find rituals that bring it to life. If it’s personal, you can rewrite the story daily.  If it’s organizational, find ways to evoke the new story on a regular basis.  Tell others about it.  Imagine it.  Find the new behaviors that will energize the story and bring it to life.

The organizing and advocacy staff will meet once a month for a daylong strategy session.

Organizers will enhance documentation their work and once every other week, a short story will be shared with the rest of the staff.
One organizer and one person on the advocacy staff will help craft the next appeal letter.
We’ll organize a storytelling dinner for donors where this more integrated story can be shared.