July 21, 2014 | Category: Blog, Story Guide | Author:

Stories and strategy — communications expert Bruce Trachtenberg

Today on the blog, a guest post from Bruce S. Trachtenberg, an independent communications consultant and the executive director of the Communications Network from 2006-2013. Here, Bruce replies to a funder’s question about how to tell stories that address both short-term and long-term concerns in a given campaign or cause. 

Storytelling by foundations doesn’t occur in a vacuum. Rather, what stories to tell and when to tell them is determined by the larger communications strategy—the goals, the target audiences and how the foundation hopes to illuminate and motivate.

If a funder wants to tell stories about an initiative meant to address a long-term problem, stories should reflect the status of the initiative and also place it within the context of its longer-term goals.

Let’s say the story is about a program to provide training to people in poor communities so they can find living-wage jobs. A good early-stage story might profile a mother who wants to return to work. The story shows her family and community and her current struggles, and how her situation is representative of the issue the foundation is trying to address.

As the program progresses, a middle-stage story might zero in on someone who is in training, show him at a skills-training workshop and how that will equip him for a job, and what his new income will enable him to do.

Later on, other stories might highlight people who have completed their training, are working and living better lives. Those stories might show the distance, economically, people in the program have traveled and contrast their current lives with how things were when they lacked skills for decent, well-paying jobs. Such stories would suggest there are others at various stages of the program who also are trying to lift themselves up and those who haven’t been reached yet.