Everyone knows what great work community organisations do, but have you really sat down to think about what makes your organisation special? You’re so caught up in the day to day that it can be hard to see the whole story, yet it is the story of your group that helps it stand out from the crowd. It’s the story of human lives, lives that have been changed for the better because of your group. And that’s a story people will want to hear.
Figuring out what the story of your group is will be worth the time investment. It will help you achieve your goals, whether that’s raising funds, attracting new service users and staff or increasing your public profile. So how do you decide what your story will be?
There are four questions you need to answer, and answering them will help you identify the ingredients that make your story unique. Let’s use the example of the National Council for the Blind of Ireland (NCBI), an organisation I have experience of as a service user and service provider, to demonstrate how this works.
This is the most important question. It connects to the passion and vision that inspired you or your founders to set up the group in the first place. For example, NCBI was set up to provide services to visually impaired and blind people, to help them cope with sight loss and to participate more fully in society. Identifying the reason for your group’s existence will give you the drive to get you through difficult times. It will also motivate you to spread the word about the group, even if it appears that no-one is listening.
This is a question that is best answered in terms of what you do for the people who benefit from your group’s activities. NCBI offers a range of practical and emotional supports to visually impaired and blind people, including mobility training, technology training and peer counselling. Being clear about what you do will help service users understand more about what you can do for them, and funders will see where their money is going.
No community group can be all things to all people, and there is a core group of people who are most likely to benefit from your services. It helps to know who they are, because you can then tell your story in a way that’s relevant to them. Draw up a profile of a typical person who uses your services or supports you financially. If you keep them in mind, it’ll give your story a focus. Typical NCBI service users are older people dealing with deteriorating sight, or children and young people who need extra educational supports.
It’s not just what you do, but how you do it. This is what separates you from other organisations that are similar to yours. NCBI’s peer counselling service is delivered by people who have themselves experienced sight loss, so they understand exactly what a person who has just been diagnosed with slight loss is going through. Ultimately, the most important outcome of your services is the feelings you inspire in your service users. Tap into those feelings of wellbeing, relief and joy that your organisation brings to people.
How to Tell Your Story
Now you’ve identified the ingredients of your story, you’ll be able to give a consistent message to your target audience, but you’ll need to decide who’ll be interested in hearing your story and how best to reach them. The great thing about knowing your story is that it will be compelling enough for you to avail of free publicity tools like press releases and blogs, leaving your budget free to fund your services. Here are a few tips for spreading the word.
Choose Your Medium: Now you know who your target audience is, you need to figure out what’s the best way to communicate with them, and that will depend on where they get their information. This will depend on their age, educational background and interests. Younger people who are glued to their phones will absorb information through social media, while older people may still prefer their local newspaper. People with literacy issues may be reached through their local radio station.
Content to Write. Now you’ve figured out your chosen medium, you’ll be able to decide what form your story will take. You need to tailor the content you write to fit your medium: for example, blogs and email newsletters for an online audience, press releases for newspapers. Blogs and email newsletters work best for an online audience. If you want to reach an audience through newspapers, then a press release is the way to go. There are subtle differences in the structure of these types of content, so you need to tailor your story to each one. In a blog, you’re more chatty and more general in the information you give, as you’re trying to reach people who don’t know about your organisation.
In a newsletter, you can be more focused and can promote directly, because you’re sending it to people who are already aware of what you do. Meanwhile, a press release is more factual, and concentrates on what’s newsworthy about your organisation, whether it’s an award you won, a study you’ve been part of or a new service you’re introducing.
This week’s guest blogpost comes from Derbhile Graham a writer and editor who believes in the power of story and is committed to helping people and organisations tell their story. She creates content for organisations and delivers workshops in creative writing and communications.
If you would like advice on how to tell the story of your community organisation, please contact WriteWords