2012 VolunteerMatch Client Summit Insights: Storytelling in CSR – Common Challenges and New Tactics for Success

Jun 18, 2012 5:30 PM ET

Guest post by Devon Douglas, BBMG

On March 17, I spent the day with VolunteerMatch and a group of passionate CSR and Foundation professionals dedicated to engaging their employees, consumers, members and other stakeholders in making a positive impact through volunteering.

Successes were shared and celebrated; challenges were raised and discussed. My Best Practice Café discussion focused on storytelling as a key tactic for building executive support for CSR, and a few key themes emerged: the difficult task of collecting and curating stories from across a complex organization; creating a culture of engagement to encourage sharing; and identifying the right stories to share with the C-suite.

At BBMG, we love telling stories and believe this tactic to be a vital piece of any powerful CSR strategy, platform or movement for positive impact. No one ever marched for a statistic or won the hearts and minds of voters with a data point. People commit to causes and connect to issues when they are touched on an emotional level. With this in mind, we have created five keys to using stories to bolster support for your CSR efforts:

1) Remember we are all human

Stories bring emotional context to new, unfamiliar and seemingly irrelevant information. They can connect us to each other in ways that balance sheets alone cannot. Building support for CSR initiatives can be challenging. Storytelling can help us build credibility, evoke inspiration and create memorability by breaking though the clutter of endless emails, voicemails, presentations and meetings.

2) Tell iconic stories

Andy Goodman teaches us about 6 types of iconic stories: the story of the challenge, the story of how we came to be, the story of success, the story of a remarkable performance, the story of how we learned from a mistake and the story of the future and what it will look like if we band together to achieve our vision. These are the story archetypes that stick with us, that we retell, that become part of our culture. These are the stories we should bring into the boardroom.

3) Create stories through experience

Make it possible for leaders in your organization to connect with key CSR initiatives by experiencing them firsthand. Schedules are packed and budgets are tight, but getting a handful of executives to learn about a social or environmental issue through an immersive experience will pay dividends for years to come.

4) Leverage co-creativity to gather stories

Story and idea platforms like Starbucks Idea Café, Generation Benz and Nike’s WE portal have shown us that inspiration and creativity can come from anywhere. Look across your organization to identify stories that can be elevated with leadership. Create platforms and tools for easy sharing via social media and intranet sites, and share these stories with executives regularly.

5) Use design to tell your story

Design should be in your storytelling arsenal. In the words of legendary graphic designer Milton Glaser, “to design is to communicate clearly,” and clear communication is certainly the goal of the stories we bring into the C-Suite. Graphic mediums force us to be straightforward and to-the-point in our narrative. Specifically, infographics are a great way to make complex stories more simple, memorable and even interactive.

Whether you are trying to reach consumers, thought leaders or executives, this advice holds true. We know, we’ve tested it. If you have a story you need help telling let us know. www.bbmg.com.

Devon Douglas, Senior Strategist at BBMG, previously led sustainability initiatives for Walmart. She guides clients including Earthbound Farm and Seventh Generation through critical moments—from the creation of new products to integrated marketing campaigns.