Finding and Using Your VoiceJune 22, 2016
American author, poet and activist Maya Angelou famously said “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
For nonprofit organizations in Arizona, their volunteers and administrators, each day is filled with a focus on helping the people they serve feel that today and tomorrow will be better than yesterday.
Bringing hope to those who have almost run out of it, or helping someone feel unconditional love for perhaps the first time in their lives, are among the goals of the more than 20,000 agencies in Arizona who simply want to create a stronger sense of community by helping others feel better.
Angelou is also famous for saying “there is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” The ability to discover and share your organization’s mission and stories is one of the most powerful tools at your disposal. So, why don’t more nonprofit groups spend time on storytelling? The answer might be as simple as they don’t know where to start.
That was not a problem for Kimberly Trichel, who since June of 2015 has served as Executive Director of the Arizona Chapter of HopeKids, an organization that provides events, activities and support networks for families who have a child with cancer or some other life-threatening medical condition. Founded in Phoenix in 2001, HopeKids has chapters in Arizona, Minnesota and Texas. Previously Trichel was director of community relations and charitable giving for the Fiesta Bowl, and prior to that served as executive director for the Arizona Coyotes Foundation. That’s where she first learned of HopeKids and their story.
As a corporate supporter and personal volunteer for HopeKids, she learned of the impact that “hope and anticipation” can have on families who are dealing with the illness of a child.
“Hope is the most powerful medicine,” says Trichel. “Sometimes the little things can be taken for granted and HopeKids brings welcome relief to families who might just need to have a bit of hope and something to look forward to.”
When the opportunity arose for her to take the helm in Arizona, there was no question in her mind or heart. “I felt as though a prayer had been answered when I was given the opportunity to work more closely with the volunteers, supporters and HopeKids families.”
Telling the stories of how HopeKids delivers that hope and anticipation is key to helping supporters understand how they can get involved.
“You would be surprised how many ways you can give. It’s not just money, but perhaps it’s time or attention that can make a difference,” says Trichel. “Telling the stories of the kids, siblings, families and our wonderful volunteers helps us generate more interest in our mission.”
While Trichel focuses all of her energies telling those stories any chance she gets, she is quick to point out that words on a page or pictures on a social media post alone will never completely communicate what HopeKids is all about.
“You can give someone a brochure and say ‘Here, read this,’ or forward a video and say ‘Here watch this,’ but nothing compares to the impact of saying to someone ‘Here, come experience this.’ Creating an experience for your potential supporters, in terms of events or volunteer efforts, creates an engagement opportunity that telling your story alone will never do,” she explained.
Top Tips for Finding Your Voice and Using It
As the chief development officer for Gabriel’s Angels, a Phoenix-based service organization that serves 13,700 abused, neglected and at-risk children in Arizona through the application of innovative pet therapy, Michele Shipitofsky will tell her organization’s story to anyone, anytime and anywhere. A certified fundraising executive (CFRE) with more than 17 years experience helping nonprofit organizations hone and deliver their stories, Shipitofsky is always eager to help other organizations achieve their mission through great storytelling.
So, what is her advice to other nonprofits who wish to start telling their story better?
- Know your truth.
All nonprofit organizations are asking people to entrust their resources to their agency. Being relatable and believable is incredibly important to building trust. Knowing truly who you are, what you stand for, how your organization actually impacts the community and focusing your efforts on those truths helps others be just as committed as you are.
- Know your place in the story.
While you are the storyteller, the story is not about you. It’s about your organization’s mission, its impact and the lives your organization and its volunteers change every day. Leverage the people around you to tell the stories. Volunteers, especially, are great sources for inspiring stories.
- If you don’t believe in your mission, you shouldn’t be there.
Passion is hard to fake over the long term and your credibility will only suffer if you try. To move others you must first be moved and therefore your passion for the work your organization provides to the community must be authentic.
- Practice, practice, practice.
If part of your storytelling effort involves public speaking opportunities, spend a lot of time in front of a mirror or your friends and practice as much as you can. More than anything, you want to build an introduction that draws an audience in.
- Know your numbers.
Nothing damages your credibility with an audience more than if you don’t know the basic financial and statistical information about your organization. It’s nearly impossible for others to believe their donations will be used well if you can’t be specific with regard to the financial side of your organization.
- Leave no stone unturned, but choose wisely which rocks to go after first.
Telling your story might actually come naturally to you. The challenge may come when you have to decide how you’re going to do it. Some organizations simply focus on word-of-mouth and face-to-face interactions. Some believe direct mail or printed materials are the best vehicles to spread the word, while others are all-in on the power of social media, video and pictures. Whatever tactic you choose to employ, it’s important to effectively prioritize and focus. Mastering one tactic or channel will have a greater impact on the level of engagement you have with your audience than using many channels poorly.