Why Your Organization Needs a Story-Gathering Process (And How To Create One)

Two people carrying a basket of freshly picked apples together

“People relate to people and give to people.”

We were in a meeting recently when our colleague Sonya Schweitzer, our director of digital marketing, brought this up. And it struck a chord. That’s been our guiding philosophy through our work with all our nonprofit partners.

It’s so essential. People don’t connect to the things your organization does. They connect to the people impacted by your organization’s work. Those are the stories we tell our partners: “You need to share this.”

Talking about your organization’s work through the eyes of the people you serve is so much more powerful.

But wait… How do you get those stories in the first place? 

You need a story-gathering process. Here’s why—and the best practices that will help you create one.

Why You Need a Story-Gathering Process

Has this ever happened to you? You’re talking to a colleague and they mention that they heard of an individual your organization’s work supported in some way… somewhere… at some point. Or maybe you’re that colleague sharing an anecdote. Either way, the details are limited, the facts change each time you hear it, and you’ve seen a version of that story repeated in every piece of communication put out by your organization over the past five years.

Anecdotal tales have the potential to create a spark. But here’s the thing—they don’t have the authenticity to make a lasting impact. And if you only have a few anecdotes on hand, they can get worn out quickly. 

Your organization deserves better.

There are so many benefits to having a process in place to gather stories:

  • Authenticity. You’re sharing stories of real people. A good story-gathering process ensures that you’re sensitive to the storyteller’s situation and perspective. You’ll have the right details and the storyteller’s perspective documented, so you can always check back to avoid misrepresentation or misattribution.
  • Preparation. With your content library, you have compelling stories at the ready. Your communicators can easily find the stories that will help raise awareness, drive action, and gain resources. Since you have a process in place, when someone has a story, you can collect it even when you’re not ready to share it yet. 
  • Balance. This one’s twofold. First, your library gives you a holistic view to ensure that your stories represent the diversity of the communities you work in. Second, you can track when and where you used each story to strike the right balance in your marketing and communications, not relying on the same story too often.
  • Respect. You can make sure you’re always practicing ethical storytelling as part of your process. Let the storyteller decide when and where they’re comfortable with their story being shared. Reinforce their ownership. Save their contact information so that you’re able to follow up later to make sure they’re still willing to share their story. “Just because we collected a story doesn’t mean it’s ours forever,” says Liza Sacilioc, our content strategist. “We’re putting power back to the storyteller.”

These are all great reasons to have a story-gathering process. Now, here’s how to do it.

How to Create a Process

“The beginning part is education,” Sonya explains. “Helping your team understand the value and the purpose of collecting stories, what they’re going to be used for, and the benefits of that.”

When you first start thinking about gathering stories, it can seem overwhelming. There’s so much to do already. Maybe you’ll make do with the stories you’ve already been using. 

But it can be done, and it’s so worth it. When we work with a new partner on this, we help take care of some of the heavy lifting that’s needed to set up a process so that they don’t have to come up with that on their own. We believe in working in bite-sized chunks, so the process doesn’t feel overwhelming.

We help create simple yet effective questions that get the necessary details and capture the essence of each story. And we support the setup of their content library (more details on that in the next section!).

“The idea,” says Julie Rosenthal, “is really to create a primary collection point that keeps track of where a story’s being used in the marcom strategy, whether it’s being used, which channels, how it’s going to be used.”

Best Practices for Your Story-Gathering Process

Practice ethical storytelling. Make sure that your approach always follows these ethical storytelling practices with every story you collect.

Educate your team. Keep everyone on the same page about how stories are collected so that you can collect them as they come up, with all the necessary information. 

Record your interviews. If your storyteller is comfortable with it, record your virtual interviews and save the recordings to your collection for future reference.

Collect key information, including photos, interview recordings, contact information for your storyteller, where and how the story’s been used, type of story (for example, program, partner, or member story), and assets like logos for partner organizations. 

Our director of client relations, Sinikka Mondini, explains that “If it’s in the database, and someone uses it for an appeal letter, link that appeal. Link the Facebook posts. Then you can see how it was used and when it was used. Then, you know not to use it right now for another marketing piece. It’s easier in a smaller organization, but in a bigger organization, different departments might be pulling the same story for different things.” 


Let’s go back to the beginning because it can’t be said enough: 

“People relate to people and give to people.”

Stories give us human connection. By using stories, your organization can build and maintain the support needed to keep doing good work.

To get the most success from using stories in your marketing and communications strategies, you need to put a process in place to gather those stories. With a process in place, you can gather stories into a robust content library—one with stories that captivate your audience, connect them to your mission, and leave a lasting impression.


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