Powerful stories about employee volunteers can lift your organization’s reputation. But how do you tell stories that go beyond shallow narrative and move audiences toward a deeper and more lasting connection with your organization and its purpose?
Step 1: Charting the Right Course
Most employee engagement programs are part of a broader citizenship effort within a company. It‘s important to first make sure you have a clear understanding of your company’s long-term communications objectives. What kinds of stories is your company looking to tell, to which audiences, and to what end? How do employee volunteering efforts fit into that narrative framework?
By sitting down with your organization’s communications team, you can make sure your efforts are aligned. This will give you a better chance of securing the resources and support you’ll need, when you need them, to tell more meaningful stories.
Step 2: Diving into the Details
Fundamentally, stories are about change. In classic storytelling form, this change generally occurs as a result of a specific person or group of people having struggled against opposing forces to achieve something meaningful. Often the resulting change points to a greater truth (e.g. the importance of perseverance, honesty, or family).
As you brainstorm your possible stories, think about what types of changes you want to convey through your employee engagement efforts.
- For long-term volunteering programs, such as skills-based mentoring (MicroMentor is one such platform), you might want to ask participating employees to keep a journal of their experience, recording their impressions throughout the process. This way, at the end of the engagement they’ll be able to provide concrete examples of what was most challenging and how they helped their mentee succeed.
- As for short-term volunteering, such as an all-day event at a local food bank, think about the details you’ll want to capture throughout the day. At the most basic level, you’ll probably have a sign-in sheet so that you know who participated. But what other things might be good to keep track of?
- Depending on the activity, look for details that convey the scale of your volunteering effort, such as the number of pounds of food your team sorted, how many people took part, the types of items organized, and how many people will benefit from your efforts.
- Stories are strongest when they include sensory details, so make sure to capture enough to immerse your readers in the action. What does the place look like when you arrive? What are people talking about? How are they dressed? Are there background noises or specific smells you can identify?
- When you interview people, make sure to get their names and ages, their role in the organization and any other details that you might want to refer to later.
- At the end of the day, take note of your volunteer team. Do they look tired but happy? What do they say about their experience? What was the most challenging? What will they remember? How are things different now than when they first arrived? Have they accomplished what they set out to do? If not, what did they learn in the process?
Step 3: Managing Your Story Stock
Continue to review and refresh the stories that you’ve captured. Make sure to keep track of even partial stories, so you can return to them later. The right quotes and anecdotes can often be sprinkled into executive presentations, social media updates, and online posts as needed.
Your story management system could be as simple as an Excel spreadsheet, noting the time and place of each event, any relevant themes (e.g. diversity, innovation, sustainability), employees who featured prominently, how you used each story and any metrics to indicate how well each was received.
Whatever system you come up with, it should serve as a guide to your future communication efforts, as you continue to move away from the frothy shallows and navigate towards deeper story waters.
Andie Long is a communications professional with 15 years of institutional storytelling experience on behalf of corporations and non-profit organizations. She is currently freelancing as a writer and PR consultant, as well as working towards a certificate in game design at the University of Washington. Follow her on Twitter @andielong or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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