Balance Small Wins and Long-Term Goals in Your Storytelling

How can we best frame social-change efforts so they feel ambitious but manageable? How do we do story-based communica...

How can we best frame social-change efforts so they feel ambitious but manageable? How do we do story-based communications so as to celebrate small, “tactical” victories along the way, while connecting each of those efforts to a larger social-change goal that may take years to achieve?

President Franklin D. Roosevelt faced this very problem when building support for his strategy in World War II. Speaking of his “fireside chat” radio broadcasts, he said, “I want to explain to the people … what our problem is and what the overall strategy of the war has to be … so that they will understand what is going on and how each battle fits into the picture.”

The president was confident that people could “take any bad news right on the chin” if they understood the larger story.

Maybe your organization is fighting a war of its own. The fact that you’ve identified the need to bring people along for the long haul is an important step. Following are some practical considerations as you do this.

Keep your eyes peeled for organizations that strike this balance well.

I posed your question to Brett Davidson of Open Society Foundations, and he cited the example of the marriage-equality work of the Human Rights Campaign

That organization, he says, “does a great job of highlighting small or interim victories and featuring individual stories at the heart of these battles, while maintaining a clear long-term vision.” The organization’s website features stories of victories and setbacks in individual states, and maps and other tools to show the big picture.

Consider your time frame.

My colleague at Working Narratives, Nick Szuberla, has worked on criminal-justice issues for 15 years. He says different groups in the movement to end mass incarceration cast their work in different ways.

 “Some are defenders of human rights engaged in an ongoing struggle,” he says. “Others are trying to reverse the trend of an ever-increasing prison population—that’s a long-term fight, but it’s got an end point. Still others are working towards a policy change in the foreseeable future.”

The same principle applies for any organization: Consider how big your big picture is, and plan accordingly for how to keep people engaged.

Avoid conflicts between short- and long-term communications.

Alan Jenkins of The Opportunity Agenda told me it may be tempting to use short-term messages that ultimately undercut your long-term “story” or goals.

“In California, for instance, one campaign argued that undocumented immigrants should have health-care access, otherwise immigrant nannies might, say, get tuberculosis and infect the kids they take care of,” he says. “That message moved some people in the short term, but it also ran counter to the overarching message that immigrants are part of us.”

Advocates realized the damage this message might do and shifted to saying that removing barriers to health care is important “so that everyone can participate and contribute to a thriving California.”

I hope these considerations help. I invite readers to add their thoughts and examples in the comments section. Please also read the Working Narratives blog for more discussion of storytelling strategy.

Balance Small Wins and Long-Term Goals in Your Storytelling, July 9, 2014, Chronicle of Philanthropy by Paul VanDeCarr

If You Build It, Will They Come?

Leadership is the single most meaningful force for success. Whether it is in politics on a global, national, or local...

Leadership is the single most meaningful force for success. Whether it is in politics on a global, national, or local level; in the corporate or private sector; or in the nonprofit world, accomplishment is propelled by the impetus and inspiration of one, or a small group of individuals, who develop creative mission and market-driven ideas, build plans of action around them, and effectively animate those plans through effective execution. Driven by vision and passion and a commitment to excellence and success, leaders create new reality, innovation and change.

Let’s focus on the philanthropic, especially the Jewish philanthropic, sector for this moment. We posit that successful organizations are driven by a central vision of an individual with a determined point of view and with the magnetism and vibrant energy to influence others toward a set of goals and results. That dynamic, crafting approaches and solutions and building consensus around them, frames a group’s agenda and positions it for success.

As I have written before, size and history are no longer sole determining issues or factors. The capability to marshal resources and to obtain results leading to transformative impact is the key metric today. The fact that a nonprofit has been in business for a century no longer matters as much; in fact it might even be a negative.

So the first imperative in marshalling resources is building a Board, a core circle of leaders who share the leader’s dedication to the work of the organization, and who have the drive, capacity, and connections to advance the organization’s purpose and mission and to take on a fiduciary responsibility for the organization’s well-being.

In addition to the fiduciary role, today’s effective Board is committed to mission specific expansion and diversification; being part of offering training and orientation so that skills are developed and expectations are met; personal giving to a level of capacity; and owning the imperative for encouraging and growing the organization’s “culture of philanthropy.”

The ideal Board member is passionate, connected, active, committed and confident. They are hands-on but not intrusive, engaged but not in the way. Members respect the role and the expertise of the organizational professional, especially in today’s increasingly complex and competitive philanthropic marketplace, and see where they fit on the critical path to success.

Starting with the “fundamentals,” effective leaders will assemble, sustain and grow strong Boards by setting clear expectations; linking fundraising to the mission; creating opportunities for mentorship; and setting philanthropy as a core value and deliverable at the point of recruitment.

And remember, successful Boards are inspired by leadership from the top. So a Board Chair must lead by example – doing the things that he or she is asking of their colleagues; affirming a commitment to Giving and Getting (not Giving or Getting – a topic for Part III – which often takes members “off the hook” and building in a lack of accountability); and encouraging and inspiring members to think and to do at the same time.

Ambitious and visionary expectations create strong results. Strong results ensure effective and productive (not necessarily large) organizations that get things done. If Board Chairs and CEOs want Board members to perform, they must make sure that members understand and accept the rules and expectations; that there are written “job descriptions” for Board members and the committees that comprise the Board; that there are meaningful and productive “rules of engagement” with executive and other professional staff; and that there is a mechanism to recognize Board members who achieve and meet targets.

And when it comes to involvement in fundraising, knowing that some will be more involved than others and every Board member comes to the Board with unique skills and personality, the Board Chair and CEO must continuously engage the Board member in the fundraising activity. That includes making introductions and being involved in “asks.”

Clarity in expectations and in assignments is also critical to success. We must live in the world of definition v. assumption, addressing the issues of who is doing what; who is the “leader,” especially when Board members and professionals share tasks; and where is the point at which the Board member comes in. This is especially important today, where the emerging entrepreneurial leader is asserting him or herself alongside the expectation of organizations professionalizing to meet the challenges of the market.

As parting thoughts in this first of three posts on Board Development and Organizational Success, we assert the following:

    As leadership, driven by vision and passion for the cause, is fundamental to organizational success, nonprofits must maintain a commitment to attracting the highest caliber leadership to continue to drive success.
    Set clear and transparent expectations and minimize the compromises, especially when it comes to fundraising, precisely because it often lives outside of Board member’s comfort zone.
    Recruit the right people for the right tasks – it is all about performance and results.
    Appreciate and acknowledge unique talents and successes, making Board meetings about celebrating accomplishment as well as reporting and decision making.

Stay tuned for the next two installments in the weeks to come.

If You Build It, Will They Come? July 14, eJP, by Avrum Lapin

Survey Links Fundraising Results to Annual Campaigns

Charitable organizations in the U.S. and Canada are more likely to raise funds successfully when they have a formal, ...

Charitable organizations in the U.S. and Canada are more likely to raise funds successfully when they have a formal, annual fundraising drive, according to survey results released by the Nonprofit Research Collaborative. This is some of the first research to look at how annual funds are conducted and the role the annual fund plays in helping an organization reach fundraising goals.

The organizations with a formal annual fund drive were 20 percentage points more likely to be on track in 2013 to meet their fund raising goals (77 percent on track versus 57 percent of those without an annual fund). This finding held even after taking budget size into account.

Among the 42 percent of organizations that offered donor benefits, the most common was invitation to special “donor-only” events. Far less frequent were commemorative items such as plaques or pins; privileges such as parking or concierge service; communications such as donor newsletters; or access to organizational leadership or “backstage” activities.

The survey asked about donor renewal rates and about the percentage of annual fund donors that “upgraded,” or increased their gift over the prior year. Organizations were highly likely to be on track to meet fundraising goals in 2013 if they had renewal rates above 50 percent and/or upgrade rates of 5 percent and above.

The Nonprofit Research Collaborative (NRC) conducts surveys two times a year. The current report and prior reports from the NRC are available at

This survey was conducted online in August and September 2013 about fundraising results from the first half of 2013 compared with 2012 and about annual fund drives. The 945 respondents form a convenience sample. There is no margin of error, as it is not a random sample of the population studied. Reported results are statistically significant using chi-square analysis.

Survey Links Fundraising Results to Annual Campaigns, July 15, 2014, eJP