The art of storytelling is a powerful relationship-building tool. For a funder, it’s a means to communicate the success of its programs and cultivate a reputation for what it stands for as an organization. In addition, funders can create opportunities for grantees to elevate their mission and community voices to the larger philanthropic community. While one might think that identifying and elevating these stories is purely the responsibility of a dedicated communications team and its network of creative consultants, as the recent PEAK Florida chapter event, “Champions of Storytelling,” made clear, grants management professionals also have a critical role to play.
The event explored the importance of fostering collaborative relationships between an organization’s communications team, grants management team, and grantees through a virtual panel discussion featuring insights from Jessica Cohen, director of Communications at the Miami Foundation; Lashonda Curry, communications director at Florida Humanities; Leigh Davis, director of donor and advisor relations at the Pinellas Community Foundation; and Grace Maseda, vice president of marketing and communications at Helios Education Foundation. David Bender, Pinellas Community Foundation director of grants and operations, moderated the conversation. Here are a few key takeaways.
Surface impactful stories by collaborating with the grants management team
Grants management professionals can be an invaluable asset to a communications team because they are positioned to build deep relationships with grantees. “On reviewing reports from grantees, our grants management team can check a box [in our grants management system] that will alert the communications team about a success story,” Maseda said. Davis similarly found ways to integrate her communications strategy with standing grants management processes. “We build into our grants management system so that, on an annual basis, our partners know we’ll reach out to them for stories they’d like to share.” Curry shared that she works closely with the grants director at her organization. “I go straight to the source,” she said. “If [Grants Director] Lindsey Morrison has a story from a partner, she tells me and I reach out to them for more information.”
Establish and maintain trust with all stakeholders
Every person involved in the storytelling process needs to rest assured that information is being received and handled with utmost care. “There is a lot of trust on our team,” Cohen said. “We practice active listening by holding office hours to listen to nonprofits and community members.” Furthermore, a communications team needs to be able to trust that the grants team will help to surface story leads. And in turn, the grants team needs to trust their colleagues in communications to select the best leads to pursue and how those stories should be positioned, be it a magazine article, a blog post, or a shout-out on social media.
Empower grantees to tell their stories
Even if a funder may have a dedicated communications team—in a flash poll, 58 percent of attendees said that they did—those teams may struggle with capacity issues. And nonprofit partners may have even less capacity to communicate about their work. Here, Curry shared how she created a media kit for grant recipients, which contained a boilerplate press release that each recipient could easily tailor to their organization, talking points to help leaders easily navigate interviews, visual assets—all their basic communications needs in a neat package. And getting this resource into grantees’ hands was built into the award notification process. “When they were notified that they received the grant, they were also told the media kit would be coming to them shortly,” Curry said. “I feel like it worked because they were able to get their stories out.”
“To implement change, we need community and legislative leaders on the forefront to embrace our work and that of our partners to drive that change,” Maseda observed. And with well-founded relationships between grants management professionals, communications professionals, and the nonprofits they support in place, the stories that emerge have the power to raise awareness and be a rallying force that ultimately helps to strengthen communities in need.