It’s January, which means my refrigerator is nearly empty. (Well, there is that big box of lettuce I’m ignoring.)
This situation is in stark contrast to December, in which my fridge held all manner of delicious treats.
Which brings me to the world of nonprofits: Is your story bank going to be a full or empty in 2019?
What’s a story bank?
A story bank is a central location where you and nonprofit colleagues deposit, refine, withdraw and share stories about your organization’s work. These stories put a human face and voice on the problem you’re working so hard to solve. And they bring your impact numbers to life.
A well-managed story bank prevents those “oh crap” moments when you need to tell the perfect story with the perfect photo – and it just doesn’t exist.
Think back to 2018. Do you remember the time you needed a perfect story for a direct mail appeal? How about that big meeting with a major donor? Annual report? Gala speech? Grant application?
A story bank can help you serve up the right story when you need it. And that’s a whole lot better than just whipping together some odd ingredients – and hoping the dish is at least somewhat edible.
Bank on personalization
Banking stories in advance also can help you with audience segmentation. More than half of nonprofit marketers say that producing content that engages their audience is a top challenge.
Now this can’t possibly be because the subject matter is boring. It’s not. Your organization’s story is life-changing, as opposed to writing about mutual funds or microchips every day.
But if we’re always scrambling for stories (and great photos), it’s hard to thoughtfully and intentionally match the right story with the right audience. Personalization is more than just saying Dear Julie vs. Dear Friend or using a custom ask string. It’s about making the receiver of our communications feel we know them personally – their values, fears, dreams and quirks.
Sure, we might be able to serve a one-size-fits-all story and feed the immediate need. Short-term stress, solved. But we’re probably not going to see a consistent increase in our response rates and giving levels – the stuff that keeps us up at night.
So, if you’re in animal welfare, it’s time to gather stories for both dog and cat people. If you’re a food pantry, let’s bank some stories about seniors and families with kids. International development? Start emailing field offices to get stories from different continents.
Think you can manage to bank 2 complete stories a month? Great! That’s 24 stories a year. If you have a larger team and can realistically do more, even better. Just make sure you have a system to organize and find all that content later.
Put a system in place
Setting up a story bank doesn’t have to be complicated. If you’re starting from scratch, you can make progress with some clear content goals, your existing file system, a spreadsheet to catalog stories and keywords, and some key questions to send out to your program team.
Think of it as your trusty college mini-fridge.
But over time, you’re going to want your story bank to become even more useful. Perhaps you want it to store video assets. Or be able to perform complex searching tasks, such as finding stories about orange tabby cats who were adopted by families in Tucson with children.
That’s the fancy stainless steel model with French doors and custom temperature zones.
Luckily, the kind folks at Families USA created a detailed Story Bank Toolkit with free resources and templates to help you:
Create a plan
Build an infrastructure
This is a great resource for anyone who’s concerned with how to organize a story bank and explain what it is to others. I especially like the guides on how to turn leads into stories, interview subjects and manage the ethics around collecting and gaining permission to use stories. And it’s FREE!
Appoint a bank president
Excited to bank stories in 2019? Great! Just make sure that you assign someone to manage the bank. It should be someone who loves order, details and has a talent for firm patience, such as my business partner Brianna.
Again, a story bank is like a refrigerator. It has to be someone’s job to periodically check to make sure the stories in there are still fresh and useful to support your organization’s goals. No month-old lettuce in the back of the crisper, please.
Story banking can help your organization move from famine to feast in just a few months’ time. By being clear about what stories you’ll need this year and how you’ll organize each asset, you can spend less time scrambling – and more time serving your audience their all-time, favorite dish.
Laura Ingalls is CEO of Abeja Solutions and co-creator of Beezable, a tool that automates direct mail fundraising. She’s produced for CNN, served as a humanitarian spokesperson in Iraq and led award-winning nonprofit and corporate communications teams. Read more from Laura.