StoryGrowing WNY: Shaping Stories for Nonprofits

Block Club has worked with dozens of nonprofits over its 10-year history. We’ve won national awards for our work and, more importantly, have helped create real change at the organizations that we’ve worked in partnership with. Throughout the last decade we’ve been pitched a lot of ideas and have been asked to get involved with many different initiatives involving nonprofits. While serving great intentions, many of these initiatives were too technical or tactical, and missed the critical component of connection and communications.

A few months ago, I learned about StoryGrowing—and was blown away. This is something smart and different. Block Club got involved right away.

StoryGrowing WNY is a nine-month training program designed to help regional nonprofits harness the power of storytelling, branding and communications to nurture smart growth. This is a critical need in our community. While so many nonprofits offer incredible services in Western New York, often times they’re the worst at telling their own story. And it’s a total shame because they often have some of the most compelling stories to tell. With this new initiative, nonprofits can work directly with a variety of local professionals and learn how to balance emotional and rational messaging, target the right audiences and make efficient use of digital and social tools.

Dozens of area nonprofits applied to be part of the inaugural class and eight were selected. Organizations ranged in size, and including nonprofits like Child and Family Services and Westminster Economic Development Initiative, the organization that developed and runs the West Side Bazaar. I love that the program is competitive and that it requires an organization’s marketing director, board member and someone from their leadership team to attend each meeting. This ensures that the StoryGrowing process is disseminated throughout various levels of the organization. Everyone has to buy in and get on board. These select nonprofits receive the opportunity to learn from some of the best and brightest while they’re working with StoryGrowing. They can then use what they learned and worked through as a guide, informing and helping shape their development of storytelling deliverables.

Each organization is assigned a sherpa, or guide, to help them navigate the world of communications. In addition, each team is given a bank of hours that they can use to solicit help from the area’s top advertising, marketing, branding, communications and strategy professionals. This allows each organization to bring in help for trouble spots unique to their nonprofit.

This initiative should help grants from foundations go farther, advertising and marketing to become more focused, and ultimately help these incredible nonprofits better deliver on their mission and promise to the communities they serve.

I recently taught this year’s first group class, and lead an energized group of nonprofits through exercises in brand-building and communications strategy. When I signed up to get involved with StoryGrowing I didn’t know what to expect. And honestly, this was one of the best days I’ve had over the last month. I hope it was as energizing and fulfilling for the nonprofits as it was for me. I strongly encourage my friends in nonprofits to consider applying to be a part of next year’s class, and for all of my friends in the communications world, you should consider how you can get involved, too.

When nonprofits are able to effectively tell their story, incredible things can happen. Check out our case studies on Unyts and Say Yes to Education to see stories that we’ve helped bring to life with some of our favorite area nonprofits.