Young professionals weigh in: Nonprofits must tell their stories
Ryan Summerlin September 6, 2013
As a grant writer, people often say to me, “Oh, you ask people for money!” While that is partially true, I see my position a little differently — I am a storyteller. There are a lot of preconceived notions about nonprofits and the people that work for them, and part of my job is overcoming those notions, as well as developing a program, predicting outcomes, and describing an evaluation plan. The easiest way to do that is to tell a story about your organization, your clients and your staff.
Being a writer and not just an activist, I spend a lot of time thinking about stories, and what I, as a reader, like about stories. A lot of the most loved stories, and the most successful, are about relationships at the heart of things. As a writer and consumer of stories, I have to be conscious of the impact stories can have on different people, and be conscious about what readers will take away from these stories. Stories, in many ways, shape our worldview; they help us make sense of the world around us, and they help us relate to other people, either by creating common ground or by exposing us to new perspectives.
The competition in our town for our community’s dollars is high, which is why telling your organization’s story is so important. The city of South Lake Tahoe lists 33 nonprofits as community partners on their website and goes on to state that it is by no means an exhaustive list. Your story will allow not only grant funders, but individual donors and community members to connect with your organization, program or clients on a deeply personal level. Fostering that relationship is one of the most important things you can do to increase support, financial or otherwise, for your nonprofit.
Our tourist-driven economy makes it difficult to find reliable sources of funding that are not government grants, which are restricted and prescriptive. Grants are all well and good, but they are only a piece of the funding puzzle for any successful non-profit, especially a nonprofit in a rural community. I often tell people that the best gift you can give any nonprofit is a donation of unrestricted funds, as many grants do not allow administration, training, or overhead costs to be charged. If you can’t give a donation, giving your time is just as valuable. Without the dedication of volunteers, our program would not be successful or as comprehensive as it is today. Including volunteers in your story is essential to connecting with your community.
South Lake Tahoe and the Tahoe region are amazingly unique places, and I just know there are a multitude of unique stories just waiting to be told. What are we waiting for?
— Kate Cowan is a Grants Coordinator for Live Violence Free.