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Whether you are trying to recruit volunteers or raise money, there’s nothing quite like a captivating testimonial to build support.  Testimonials can demonstrate the true difference your organization makes. Stories can take a dry, bland bit of narrative and transform it into a vibrant, compelling depiction your program’s best work. 
The only problem is that it’s hard to come up with factual stories “on demand” when you need them.  That’s where storybanking comes in — by capturing real-life stories as they happen and “banking” them for later use, you’ll be prepared when that reporter calls, you need a fresh story for your newsletter, or you want to give your next volunteer recruitment ad a little zing. 

Storybanking Step By Step

If you want to try storybanking, here’s a quick and dirty way to get started.  And, the good news is that volunteers can help!
Step One: Put Together a Story Template
Use a template to ensure that the info collected is consistent and complete.  There’s nothing like having to chase down a critical tidbit after the fact.  Get it down all at once.  Include all of the info to be collected — questions to be asked, contact info for the storyteller, and the level of participation they agree to. 
For example — Are they willing to be contacted later for further questions?  Can a photo be used?  Can their name (full or first) be used?  Are they willing to speak to the media (with your support)?  Where can the story be placed (website, social media, brochure, etc.?  Also, include a consent form right on the template, to keep everything together in one place.
Step Two: Collect Stories
 Stories and testimonials can be found almost anywhere — you can ask people to share via your website, you can set up a “story booth” at public events sponsored by your organization, or you can ask service beneficiaries and volunteers directly.  The best stories are those that are those that share a journey through difficulty to triumph and relate real life emotions. If storytellers are shy, ask them to be intereviewed with a friend or as a volunteer-client team.
Note: Use a tape recorder or video camera when interviewing. Writing distracts the storyteller and interrupts the flow.  Also, you’ll be better able to pithy direct quotes later.  After the interview, you can transcribe key information and quotes onto your template.
Step Three: Use Interview Prompts
Use questions that tap into the passion people feel about your organization’s work, their contribution, and/or how it has helped them. They don’t need to explain it like you would; they only need to share their experience from their own perspective. 
Use the following prompts to get folks talking.  Also, don’t be afraid of a little silence.  Storytellers sometimes need to time remember and formulate their thoughts.

  • Why did you get involved?
  • What have you learned or gained?
  • What has surprised you most about this organization?
  • How has your life changed?
  • What are you looking forward to?
  • How have the people here helped you?
  • What would you say to others about this organization?
  • What advice would you give to others who are in your situation?
  • Picture a world without this organization; what would it look like?
  • How do you see the world differently now?

Also, ask these questions to elaborate…

  • Why do you feel that way?
  • What makes you say that?
  • Can you give me an example?
  • How would you respond to someone who disagrees with you about that?

Step Four: Share Stories When They Make Sense
Now that your team has gathered and banked their stories, find creative ways to share them.  Be sure you have the storyteller’s permission to do so, and always give them a heads up about how and when their story will appear.  If you are pitching stories to media, leave out the storyteller’s contact info until your media contact has agreed to run it.  That way, you don’t disappoint anyone.

Other Story Tips & Ideas

  • Keep a binder of stories on hand for volunteer recruits to review during their interview or orientation training to help build commitment.
  • Set up an online repository of stories and photos that is password protected, so that anyone authorized on your team can access them when needed.
  • Whenever possible include photos; they increase trust exponentially.  And, use pics of faces, which have been shown to increase empathy.
  • Rotate stories on your website in a special section “What People are Saying About Us”
  • Stick with short, but specific narrative stories, NOT statistics or quick quotes.
  • Pass out index cards at events and ask service beneficiaries and volunteers to share one thing that has changed because of their involvement with your organization; then, follow up with those who embody the most compelling depiction of your mission in action.  You can also include this question in your client and volunteer satisfaction surveys.
  • If the story is to be used for volunteer recruitment, feature individual volunteers who are MOST LIKE those you are trying to reach.

Have you used stories to share your work?  What were the results?  What surprised you?