Use the power of a first-hand account
You've collected your outcomes data. Job well done! Now, how will you communicate the results? Consider drawing people into your corner by presenting outcomes data in the form of a story. Choose a single participant's experience and focus on what he or she has achieved because of your organization's work.
Whether they're called stories of impact, case studies or case stories, first-hand accounts of participants' experiences can be an incredibly powerful tool. Circulate stories internally to build or maintain support for an established program or mail them out as part of a fundraising drive. Participants may also want to tell stories in person — to a panel at a conference, let's say, or in an educational film. The versatility of stories of impact make them a prized tool for communicating outcomes results.
So, how do you build one?
Constructing a narrative to communicate results begins after the data is in. Aim to gather information from a variety of sources: historical records, questionnaires, observation. Cast a wide net. For example, if you want to study the success of a local meals-on-wheels program, you'll need to gather data from participants as well as the internal processes inside the organization delivering the meals. Make sure you have all the numbers you need before jumping ahead to the next step.
Organize and focus
Organize your data in a way that makes sense for your project (chronologically or by categories, for example). Depending on the complexity of your work, you may need to carefully filter out any metrics that aren't relevant to the story you're writing.
Choose a champion
The gold standard of a champion is a participant whose life has dramatically changed as a result of your program. Invite this person (or persons) to work with you to get the word out. In addition to taking time to write his or her story, your champion might present at panels, participate in community outreach or perform light ceremonial tasks as one of the faces of your organization.
Develop the narrative
Stories of impact should be engaging and powerful, naturally integrating participants' experiences into the broader narrative of your mission. Keeping them free of jargon will make them more accessible to those outside your organization. Your finished narrative can be included on your website as well as in newsletters and press releases. Use extracts in social media. You might present specific stories as testimonials at a conference.
Know your audience
Though it's helpful to maintain a bank of "generalized" stories of impact that can work in many situations, also consider whether there are specific audiences you want reach. In this case, you may need to tailor a speech or highlight a particular story. As well as selecting the themes or results that will grab the attention of a particular audience, also consider how you'll frame or tell the story and what you're trying to say.
Consider the following groups:
- Donors, funders and philanthropists. Focusing on results-based outcomes can be helpful when communicating with donors who want reassurance that their money is being put to good use. This group often prefers a formal tone heavily peppered with facts.
- Local partners, community leaders and other nonprofits. This is a group of partners — the people working alongside you to realize your mission. They're typically as close to the action as they can be without being inside your organization. You might adopt a more informal tone with this group, especially if they're already familiar with some of the challenges your organization is facing.
- Management, staff and others inside your organization. Because you and your staff are so close to the work, it can be hard to get the distance necessary to properly reflect. Stories of impact can be important tools to remind staff about the lives they're working to change. The stories serve as a link between your staff and the reality of what they're working so hard to achieve.
Strengthening Nonprofits: Creating and implementing a data collection plan