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Identifying Good Stories in Your Organization

This is the second in a three-part series on storytelling. Check out the other two entries: 3 Opinions on Stories and “How to Tell Stories Better.”


Organizations need to tell more stories. And it’s hard to tell stories because it’s hard to find them. Too often, organizations get in a rut and end up telling versions of the same problem-solution story over and over.

So, how can you find the storytelling gold hiding in your organization? It starts with beginning to foster a culture of storytelling.

You can’t do this alone.

If you want to find interesting, important stories across your organization, you’re going to need to get everyone involved. Development officers, program staff, managers and junior employees, clients and students and donors—everyone.

Spread the word.

Do you have a weekly or monthly all-hands meeting? Ask if you can speak about the power of storytelling. (Or ask Mighty Citizen to come do it for you.) And talk to each department head one-on-one.

Be relentless. Start an ongoing conversation that helps everyone understand how telling stories is so much more persuasive than making vague “impact” statements.

Ask them questions to get the stories rolling.

Train your team to recognize potential stories more frequently. Try questions such as:

  • Who did we turn away last week?
  • What have we learned this week?
  • Who’s your favorite client?
  • Who can’t you get out of your mind?

You’ll often want to ask follow-up questions to dig into the story. Try to understand where the hero of the story came from, what their goals are, how they’re working to achieve something, how their life is changing, etc.

Look for these 3 plots. Certain plots never fail. Teach everyone to look out for them:

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  • David vs. Goliath: Classic. Everyone knows the story: An underdog accomplishes something great, defeating a powerful foe in the process. This is the story about when a person digs deep to push themselves further than they—or anyone else—thought they could.
  • The Odd Couple: The Odd Couples plot — also known as the Connection plot — tells the story of a gap being bridged. Whether by class, ethnicity, religion, demographics, etc.—humans love stories of people of different situations coming together to do something good. Think of the Mean Joe Greene commercial for Coke or Romeo and Juliet. They make us want to help others, become more tolerant, and work together.
  • The MacGyver: The MacGyver plot — also known as the Creativity plot — is about someone making a “mental breakthrough” or solving a long-standing puzzle. Think of the apple falling on Newton’s head and inspiring him to conceptualize gravity.

(These three plots are explained in further detail in the very excellent book, MADE TO STICK, by Dan and Chip Heath.)

Once you get your team to start recognizing and sharing their stories with you, you can begin to weave them into your marketing communications. And we’ll talk more about some creative ways you can do that in How to Tell Stories Better.

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