Don't Be Afraid to Share Your Stories
November 18, 2009
(Consultant Thaler Pekar helps smart leaders and their organizations find, develop, and share the stories and organizational narratives that can rally critical support. Her previous posts in this series can be found here, here, and here.)
Paralyzed by the need to tell the one perfect story that embodies their brand, acknowledges all their stakeholders, AND helps to advance their goals, foundations often refrain from telling any stories at all. As a result, potentially transformative knowledge fails to reach hungry audiences and voices vital to innovation within the philanthropic sector go unheard.
Or foundations will only tell stories about their grantees, failing to realize that their own stories -- about leadership, challenges, and successes -- often resonate powerfully with key audiences.
Today, we know that the audiences with whom foundations should and most often do communicate -- current and potential grantees, donors, policy makers -- are eager to hear about the work of and people within foundations. Indeed, the Philanthropy Awareness Initiative has reported that 88 percent of "informed Americans" want foundations to share the lessons they have learned.
So imagine the benefits, not to mention goodwill, that would accrue if foundation staff were encouraged to share their stories with board members, grantees, policy makers, and their peers in other organizations. Imagine what might happen if foundation staff shared authentic stories about what they were seeing in their areas of expertise, what was important to them, and what was impacting their work.
The unique value of any foundation lies in the knowledge it brings to the important work of finding solutions to seemingly intractable problems and in its ability to learn from, share, and apply that knowledge to other problems. Such expertise is best shared by the people most responsible for developing and nurturing it. And that's why foundation staff -- leadership and program officers, in particular -- should be encouraged to share stories that effectively articulate and illustrate the foundation's core values.
Remember: The point is not to fuss over stories until they have a perfect narrative arc or seamlessly fit the thematic constraints of the annual report. The goal, instead, should be to tap the passion, knowledge, and expertise of staff members; to demonstrate your foundation's unique value; and to share your stories as widely and as often as possible with audiences eager to listen to, engage with, and pass them on.
-- Thaler Pekar