Storytelling & Story Banking

Which is more likely to grab your attention: reading a statistic about the number of people who benefit from a service, or hearing a story about how that service saved someone’s life?

You would probably choose a good story! While data is valuable for broadly demonstrating different kinds of impact, a moving story can establish an emotional connection between that data and an audience.

Fortunately, because of their unique mission to serve the medically underserved, Community Health Centers are full of powerful stories. When properly collected, these stories may be used in annual reports and social media campaigns, or may even be shared with legislators, news publications, donors, partners, and advocates. (For storytelling tips and best practices, check out “The Ultimate Guide to Nonprofit Storytelling” from the Donorbox Nonprofit Blog.)

The process of collecting and cataloging stories is called Story Banking. A Story Bank is an archive of stories, key issues, storyteller information, and related materials.

Story Banking is essentially a three-step process:

There are a lot of ways to collect stories. You can set up a story collection booth at an event (like during National Health Center Week), distribute pamphlets with detachable postcard forms, call for story submissions on your Health Center’s social media channels, or send out a link to an online survey.

Collecting stories through multiple mediums can help ensure that you have a diverse pool of storytellers. This diversity can help you cover a wide variety of key issues as well as include a wide demographic range of storytellers. Part of a Community Health Center’s mission is to serve special and vulnerable populations that might otherwise have difficulty accessing care. By highlighting stories from all kinds of patients, you can further demonstrate that your Health Center is here to serve everyone.

Finally, be clear about what kinds of stories you are seeking. For example, you may ask for an anecdote about how your Health Center has positively impacted a patient's life. You may also highlight the advantages that stories have over pure data, and how sharing these stories can benefit your Health Center.

Once you start collecting stories, you will need a secure location to keep potential storyteller data. Many nonprofits keep their Story Bank databases in an internal network file folder, using Excel Spreadsheets that are linked to related content such as photos, videos, and articles. You may also use online spreadsheets like Airtable or Google Sheets.

This Storyteller Tracking Sheet (alternatively available as an Airtable base) can be used to collect data from potential storytellers, such as their contact information and basic story details. It also has space to record vetting attempts. You should always vet storytellers for authenticity by following up with a phone call or in-person interview where they can verify details from their story. You may also use that interaction to make internal notes about their storytelling style and to have them sign a Media Release Form consenting to the publication and future use of their story.

Once a potential storyteller has been vetted, their information may be copied to a Story Tracking Sheet (alternatively available as an Airtable base). This sheet has additional space to record demographic information and how the story was ultimately used.

Copy these templates for your own use or create a new template based on their design. However, keep in mind that regardless of what tools you use to create your Story Bank, being well-organized will be critical to its success.

While you may ultimately use your Story Bank to illustrate data in a report or as part of a social media series, you may also consider connecting storytellers directly with the press. (To review the essentials of Media Relations, check out our Webinar and Resources on Landing Media Coverage.)

Sharing stories with the media is a great way to generate free awareness in your community. One tool you may use to entice the press is a Story Sheet. This Story Sheet template includes examples of the kinds of stories you may later collect and wish to distribute. You may hand out copies of your own Story Sheet at a future Health Center event with media coverage.

Connecting a storyteller directly with the press lets them tell their story in their own words, which may be an empowering experience. However, you may wish to vet your storytellers in advance to see who would do best in an interview setting.