I don’t have to tell anyone who reads Beth’s blog about the value of storytelling.
Few would deny that storytelling is a powerful tool for inspiring action and influencing thought leaders, donors, and decision makers. However, few of us working in the social impact space could admit to utilizing storytelling to its fullest potential.
Meanwhile, digital technology has changed the game. We’re far more connected to stories and information than we have ever been, yet the noise and ubiquity of the digital world makes it harder to surface and share personal stories of change and impact. While there have never been more ways to reach audiences, it has also never been more difficult to really reach them.
The Rockefeller Foundation, where I serve as Director of Digital, recognizes a big opportunity in this intersection of story and technology, and has launched a project (you can learn more here) to consider the role that digital technology can play in elevating the practice of storytelling to inspire actions to improve the well-being of the poor and vulnerable around the world.
We saw a larger number of reports and publications out there on the topic, but most felt stale and too isolated to the nonprofit sector. We knew we needed a cross-sector perspective on the problem, so we awarded a grant to Hattaway Communications to convene stakeholders (including Beth!) from entertainment media and news, brand strategy, technology, government, nonprofits, and business.
As you can imagine, we were overcome with feedback, insights and ideas, which you can read about here. Here are some examples of themes or opportunities that surfaced:
How can we increase the quantity and quality of incentives to create more demand for stories? Could funders prioritize storytelling as a reporting and evaluation mechanism? What role could digital medium-specific competitions or contests play in increasing demand?
There often isn’t a strategic approach to story collection. Are organizations using the rights tools to collect and store stories?
How can storytelling be embedded into the DNA or every member of an organization? What training is needed to help non-communications staff identify, capture and create stories?
People are overwhelmed by the number of digital tools available. What’s the best way to provide people guidance on best practices for utilizing common tools or platforms? Is there a need for an online platform or marketplace for people to learn and contribute skills, see examples, and download guides?
Some of the findings in this report were expected, others surprising, but all can inform action for those working in the social impact space, including the team at the Rockefeller Foundation. Our next step is to workshop the report recommendations with selected cross-sector leaders to produce a game-changing platform, one that exists in multiple places or formats, that easily builds capacity and demand, that is measurable and flexible, that fosters leadership and community, and that ultimately achieves meaningful social impact.
By Jay Geneske, 2014. Jay Geneske is Director of Digital at the Rockefeller Foundation, where he pioneers new ways to hear and share innovative ideas and perspectives on serving the needs of poor or vulnerable people in a time of rapid change.