Family Nurturing Center Gets Funding, High Praise For Its Video Storytelling

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I heard great news last week from Tracy Fuchs at Family Nurturing Center, a local nonprofit that does important work in its mission “to end the cycle of child abuse by promoting individual well-being and healthy family relationships.”

FNC just received a small grant from the HealthPath Foundation of Ohio funding its ‘Red Flag’ project to produce 15-second videos about “the red flags that parents miss when a predator is grooming their child for sexual abuse,” Tracy said.

The grant was intended to fund such storytelling. And while the funding is important, what came with it reinforced how this nonprofit gets “good stories, told well”.

Charitable Words Scholars have partnered with FNC on several projects and was marginally involved in the early stages of its “Be The Change” video last year.  Our only involvement was to offer advice to “think video last” when doing videos. First, focus on keywords, a storyboard. Then, visuals. And good audio.  But the story comes first.

Oh yes, and find a videographer who gets that and respects and trusts you to tell your story…not his/her “vision.”  Josh Emerson of Neusquire produced the Be The Change video and did just that. The video stopped the room at FNC’s annual fundraising event.  There were tears at many tables, but hope as well.  Social Ventures Partner Shelley Cowan, pro bono writer Jackie Hunt and Josh will work with Tracy again on the Red Flag project and we look forward to see what they do.

When Charitable Words Scholars started producing more videos, Josh was one of the first persons I called for guidance and advice.

When talk about video storytelling comes up, I point to “Be The Change” as a best practice.

That Andy Goodman felt the same way is high praise for FNC’s storytelling team.

Goodman is a nationally-renowned expert in this area (Charitable Words has blogged about him in the past) and travels the nation advising nonprofits on story telling. At a workshop related to the HealthPath grant, he called up the web sites and  videos of nonprofits involved.

“”He was very nice and funny but blunt about his suggestions to improve some of the agency’s sites. And then he brought up FNC’s web site. (I panicked!) He liked the look of our site, but mostly he really, really liked our agency video.”

Goodman said it was very well done, Tracy said. “He said it had strong storytelling from a variety of clients, explained agency services, shared statistics without confusing the viewer. It had a call to action on a variety of levels, and ended in a positive manner back to the clients.”

Goodman told the room of 200 people that if you are creating an agency video, he highly recommends watching FNC’s video and use it as an example for how to do it right, Tracy  said.

“He applauded our team and couldn’t say enough about how much he liked it,” Tracy said. “He said he was so drawn into the testimonies and flow that he never noticed it was six  minutes long until he finished.  He said that alone was a testimony to the quality of the video.”

Congratulations to Tracy and the FNC team and it will be great to see what Josh

Here’s an excerpt from a previous Charitable Words blog post about Andy Goodman, with his good guidance on storytelling:


Seven Questions To Sharpen Your Stories

Now that Charitable Words has its IRS 501(c)(3) status as a nonprofit, we’re preparing to ask for funding to do more Charitable Words Scholars assignments in the 2014-15 school year.

That has involved finding guidance by pouring over pages of grant proposals by others – some good, some…let’s just say not “best practices” material.  Most seem formulaic and jargon-filled. Dull.

I had a breakfast meeting recently with two decision makers from the philanthropic arm of one of our community’s largest business names.  They agreed. Good storytelling counts.


Andy Goodman

A friend of Charitable Words shared an article about storytelling that explored the art through the eyes of Andy Goodman, a nationally recognized author, speaker and consultant in the field of public interest communications.

Along with Storytelling as Best Practice, he is author of Why Bad Ads Happen to Good Causes and Why Bad Presentations Happen to Good Causes. He also publishes a monthly journal, free-range thinking, to share best practices in the field.

Here’s what Goodman said in one of his newsletters in a post headlined  “Seven Questions to Sharpen Your Stories”:

“Good stories cut through the clutter and connect with people’s hearts, opening their minds to your point of view. Dull stories don’t, and all too often, that’s what public interest groups are telling.”

He compares grant writing to script writing.  It’s a bit of a stretch, but a point well taken:

Ask someone from a typical nonprofit to tell the story of  “The Wizard of Oz,” and you’re liable to hear something like this:

An at-risk youth from a blended family in the farm belt is rendered unconscious during an extreme weather event.  When she awakens,  she undertakes a long, hazardous journey in which she is aided by an assortment of variously-challenged adults…

He goes on. But you know the story. It has been told in a better way. And the story is etched in your mind, repeated again and again, with smiles and empathy. Can you say that about the last grant proposal you wrote, or read?

Here are Goodman’s questions:

1. Who’s the protagonist?

Just as a car needs a driver to get it where it’s going, stories need someone to drive the action. This person (or group of people) is called the protagonist, and traditionally structured stories follow protagonists in pursuit of clearly defined goals. To help your audience identify with the protagonist and enter the world of your story, don’t be afraid to name names (when appropriate) and provide enough physical description or background to let them see this individual in their mind’s eye.

2. What’s the hook?

Another technique for drawing people in is beginning the story where the audience is. This is your story’s “hook” –  the description of a place, circumstance, or premise that everyone understands and with which they readily identify.  If the subject of your story is global warming, for example, starting with facts about concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is not going to engage the average person. On the other hand, saying,  “Have you been reading about the incredible heat wave in Europe?” is more likely to get heads nodding.

3. What keeps it interesting?

Predictable stories are boring, and no matter how proud you are of a recent victory, if your story boils down to “We identified a goal, we pursued that goal, we reached that goal!” you’re not likely to have audiences rapt with attention. “The stuff of storytelling,” says Robert McKee, a renowned Hollywood script doctor, “is the gap between what we think will happen when we take an action, and what actually happens.”

Take another look at that success story of yours and see if you can recall any barriers or surprises that cropped up along the way. From the listener’s perspective, that’s where the story gets interesting.

4. Where’s the conflict?

There is no drama without conflict, and comedies, for that matter, also fall flat without it. Heroic action always comes into sharper focus when juxtaposed against villainous misdeeds, and while your stories will probably not reduce to simple-minded battles of good versus evil , it helps to have clearly defined heroes and villains with different notions of how the story should end.

5. Have you included telling details?

Recently, I heard a story about a small community in West Virginia whose economy collapsed when its primary industry, coal mining, was shut down. The narrator described the place as “a company town,” but the image of a controlling and penny pinching company became vivid when she added that every home was required to turn on its porch lights at 7 p.m. each evening  “because that’s how the mining company made sure the streets were lit.”  A single telling detail such as that can replace a paragraph or more of description, and good stories have just enough telling details to set the scene and people it with colorful characters.

6. What’s the hook?

By consenting to read or listen to a story, the audience subconsciously enters into a contract with the storyteller.  In return for their time and attention – an increasingly valuable commodity, not so incidentally – they expect more than a recitation of facts. They want an emotional experience that makes the time worthwhile. “Our appetite for story is a reflection of the profound human need to grasp the patterns of living,” says McKee, “not merely as an intellectual exercise, but within a very personal, emotional experience.”

7. Is the meaning clear?

Finally, your story should have a crystal clear moral, a reason for taking this particular journey.  “We don’t need more information,” writes Annette Simmons in The Story Factor, “We need to know what it means.  We need a story that explains what it means and makes us feel like we fit in there somewhere .

That’s good guidance. Thanks Mr. Goodman, and the Charitable Words friend who introduced me to his newsletter.  I’m subscribing.

Charitable Words,

Tom Callinan


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