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The 6 stories your nonprofit organization should tell

Andy Goodman is not a big fan of the "elevator story."

No organization, business or person has just one story to tell, and not every story speaks to every situation storytellers might find themselves in.

The Goodman Center he co-founded serves such prestigious clients as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation.

The center has developed a curriculum for StoryGrowing, Western New York's "Change the Story, Change the World" program, where eight local nonprofit organizations will learn how to better market themselves and raise funds. The free program is sponsored by the Health Foundation for Western and Central New York and the John R. Oishei Foundation.

When it comes to sharing an organization's message, there are six main stories every person at every organization should be able to tell, whether they are an intern or a board member, Goodman said.

"You want to send your people out with a quiver full of arrows," he said. "Depending on who they're talking to, they can pull out the right story for the right person at the right time."

They are:

The "why" story

This illustrates an organization's purpose, cause or belief – the reason someone should care about a company or charity.

Goodman pointed to an effective example on the Family Promise of Western New York's website, a heart-tugging video in which a little boy talks about what it's like to live in a shelter.

"It should make the audience say, 'Someone should do something about that!' " Goodman said.

Once the audience is invested in the need for a solution, your organization can reveal itself as the one to provide it.

The "how we started" story

Many organizations have inspiring origin stories, but they often get boiled down to a boring chronology with dates and bullet points on its website.

Who started your organization and what motivated them to create it? What struggles did they face bringing it to fruition? Does their spirit still drive the organization's mission today?

Goodman pointed to the Learning Disability Association of Western New York, which told the story of founder Rachel Howard and her struggle in 1965 to teach a grandson how to read.

"Everyone should know the creation story," he said.

The "emblematic success story"

This story shows a living, breathing example of what happens when an organization successfully does its thing. The star of the story is usually a client the organization has helped, illustrating a company's unique approach and why it works.

The "core values" story

Any organization can list its values: Unity, sustainability, integrity. In fact, at most organizations, those values will overlap.

Instead of telling an audience what your values are, show those values in action. Tell stories of the people at your organization embodying those values. The audience will understand your values on a much deeper level, Goodman said.

The "striving to improve" story

This story is often for internal use only. It illustrates that sometimes your organization fails, but it always learns and does better the next time, Goodman said.

It likely won't be broadcast on your Facebook page or made a tab on your website, but it's valuable nonetheless.

"It's very healthy to be able to throw your arm around someone's shoulder and say, 'You know, we made that mistake once, and here's how we learned from it,'" Goodman said.

The "where we are going?" story

This story shows how the world will be different – five, 10 or 50 years from now– if your organization succeeds. The story replaces the traditional, stiff mission statement with a narrative about the future, and how your organization will shape what the future will be.

"Some people say, 'But that's fiction!'" Goodman said. "A story about the future is no more fictional than a strategic plan."

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