These days, corporations across North American are investing heavily in building what is trendily referred to as their "backstory." It means they have figured out that telling an authentic story about their company's origins that reflects its founding values can favourably impact customers and drive brand loyalty.
History is especially significant when your organization is marking a timely milestone. Sometimes it takes a 20th anniversary before an organization realizes that they have never really developed their backstory. However, if you have a great founding story, you should prepare an official version now and make sure it is told and retold in all your organization's literature.
This is a trend that also works well for not-for-profits, especially when the reason for starting an organization has a story founded on passion, kindness, or personal triumph.
Stories Add Credibility and Value
It gives your not-for-profit amazing credibility and a sense of value when people can see and understand your story, and associate your organization with great value and historical credibility. One of the organizations with a great backstory is the Scouting movement, for example.
The story is that when serving in the Boer War, Lord Baden-Powell penned a Guide to Scouting to be useful to train the young men entering military service. When the war ended, Baden-Powell realized that what he had written could also serve as a guide for young boys to find meaning in their life.
His vision was clear from the start, and he stated it eloquently:
"I believe that God put us in this jolly world to be happy and enjoy life. Happiness does not come from being rich, nor merely being successful in your career, nor by self-indulgence."
Instead, he suggested that "the secret of sound education is to get each people to learn for himself instead of instructing him by driving knowledge into him on a stereotyped system."
More than a century later, the Boy Scouts still operates on its founder's vision and values. Parents deciding to enroll their youngsters in the program understand what it stands for.
Start Now to Collect Your Story
If you don't gather your backstory while there are still documents and interviews from your founder or founding board members available, it gets harder and harder as the years pass to get it together. Remember that while metrics, analysis, and strategic planning are all important to your not-for-profit organization, what matters more is being able to tell members why you exist in the first place and what distinguishes you from similar not-for-profits.
But how do you capture your backstory?
Assign a committee member with an interest and skill in research and writing to seek out your organization's story. Check your organization's early minutes. If your founder is still living and willing to be interviewed, do so to capture their original vision in their words. Ask what precipitated them to form an organization and how and when they established it.
Capture Stories from Different Perspectives
Locate members of the founding board and capture their stories as well. What circumstances and needs were they facing at that time? Have those needs changed or grown?
If your organization has been operating for more than a decade, there will be key people in its history whose contributions were notable or who evoked significant change. Seek input from them as additional chapters in your story.
Write your story and make it available on your website. Include key elements, especially your organization's vision and value statements, when your president or chairperson is making a public address, etc. Add it to your promotional literature.
Build Testimonials Into Your Story
Locate a member who has benefitted tremendously from the organization and capture their story. Get a photo for your archives, as well. Share that story on social media sites or use it as the basis for a new marketing or membership campaign.
If you cannot uncover your organization's backstory because records were lost or badly kept, now is the time to start recording it. Is something currently happening that is causing your organization to regroup or to renew itself?
While you are collecting stories, also try to capture the thoughts and passion of your not-for-profit's founders. Pull quotes out for slide presentations. Let their personality shine through when you talk about your organization's culture.
Putting the Story Together and Building On It
Since pictures are worth a thousand words, don't forget to gather photos to accompany your story. Great photos help potential members get an authentic picture of the work you are doing.
Appoint a key storyteller of note, and make sure you capture new moments for the future. The next generation of your organization's members will be grateful to be able to refer to some aspect of your backstory.
Once you have put your unique history together, don't leave it on a shelf to languish and be blanketed by dust. Pull it out and use it at every available opportunity.
Perhaps you could nominate your founder for a special community award? That would give you a chance to tell your organization's story yet again. Perhaps you could name a special fundraising campaign after your founder and get a chance again to talk about the organization's vision, accompanied with eloquent quotes from your founder.
Build a small in-house museum to your organization's past if your space allows.
If a public holiday in your area honours those who built the community, ask organizers if your founder can be featured in their program.
Not all organizations have a colourful, eloquent founder, but everyone can have a colourful, eloquent backstory if you look at the spirit and purpose behind your organization's existence.
Paula Morand is a “dreaming big and being bold” leadership expert and brand strategist who brings her vibrant energy, humour, and wisdom to ignite individuals, organizations and communities to lead change, growth, and impact in a more bold fashion. Her latest book is, Bold Vision: A Leader's Playbook for Managing Growth." Visit my website for more information.
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