Storytelling for Impact: Summer Interns Reflect on their Projects

August 16, 2021

As we approach the end of our fast-paced, 10-week summer internship program at Lever for Change, we have been trying to answer a question that is central to the work of the organization: How can we tell impactful stories that will accelerate large-scale change in philanthropy? To that end, we have evaluated how stories can and should engage an audience, how Lever for Change is using storytelling to write their own narrative as an organization, and what these findings mean for the future.

Tinia Montford Headshot
Caption: Tinia Montford, Marketing Communications Intern

The Communications team is vital to getting the word out about the work of the organization. Being a part of the communications team means getting to work closely with many departments to ensure we understand the dynamics of the information we need to communicate, and that each person feels heard.

When I began my internship, I was tasked with finding ways to help unify the voice and message of Lever for Change. It is important for any organization that it “speaks” with one voice. This can be achieved by having clear guidelines that our Social Impact or Awards colleagues can use, and it does not stop with just being in sync grammatically. When we are unified in what we say and how we say it, we can build momentum to advance Lever for Change’s narrative.

That led me down an interesting path. What is our narrative? Lever for Change is making an impact, but it is hard to see and understand this at a glance, by looking at our communications platforms. There is a vast amount of information in our Knowledge Library and our News & Blogs, which contain countless stories and experiences from competition participants, partners, and staff that build a rich picture of Lever for Change’s mission to accelerate large-scale social change around the world.

Brenda and I decided to pool our efforts. As the Social Impact Intern, Brenda has catalogued every single piece written about Lever for Change. This wealth of material has allowed me to pick examples highlighting applicant and donor experiences from competitions like the Larsen Lam ICONIQ Impact Award, 100&Change, and Equality Can’t Wait to illustrate the work of Lever for Change.

Brenda Urueta, Social Impact Intern
Caption: Brenda Urueta, Social Impact Intern

When I was selected to be a Social Impact Intern with Lever for Change, I was thrilled and excited. The prospect of working for an affiliate of such an esteemed human rights funder, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, was something I likely wouldn’t have imagined for myself just two years ago. I was ready to showcase my experience and to jump in to help where needed. Along the way, I had the privilege of collaborating with Tinia for storytelling interviews with staff.

My main project has been to catalog all the written pieces published on the MacArthur Foundation’s 100&Change Perspectives Blog and the News & Blogs and Knowledge Library of Lever for Change into a Content Library. After cataloging these pieces, I drew some insights from the data and outlined a few suggestions for our storytelling work going forward.

There are a total of 192 uniquely titled blogs or articles written on 100&Change and other competitions. In terms of competition representation, 100&Change was most prevalent, which pre-dates the launch of Lever for Change (see Chart 1). The stories related to 100&Change were often authored by organizations who were semi-finalists or finalists. The MacArthur Foundation provided them with a platform to showcase their work and use their own voices to tell their stories.

Chart 1: Content Library analysis of competition representation in written pieces
Caption: Chart 1: Content Library analysis of competition representation in written pieces

Next, published posts were categorized into three sections: Competitions, Storytelling, and Applicant Resources (see Chart 2). Competition-related topics dominated the posts, representing 46% of the total, which consisted of competition announcements, updates, and learnings. The next largest category was Storytelling (41%), which included stories written by Bold Solution Network member organizations or staff. Lastly, Applicant Resources represented 13% of posts.

As I moved through this summer, I kept asking myself how we can showcase the cutting edge and vital work we do with a lens that speaks to forming a legacy of supporting organizations to do their best work – in a persuasive and impactful way. Lever for Change staff and partners have contributed their talents and efforts to storytelling. Though social impact can be difficult to measure or understand fully, stories can be a powerful way to complement knowledge-building by uniting ideas with emotion.

Chart 2: Content Library blog categories
Caption: Chart 2: Content Library blog categories
Forming a Legacy

Lever for Change supports organizations to do their best work by fostering collaboration and sharing their stories of impact. The 100&Change Perspectives blog is an exemplary storytelling platform, highlighting the work, stories, and learnings of semi-finalists and finalists throughout the competition. The stories already written provide an idea of how inspiring and yet complex human-centered work can be.

We want to compel people to continue to support these organizations long after the competition has ended and so we chose a few stories from our content library to share that we found particularly impactful:

Amplifying Through Storytelling

When we conducted interviews amongst staff members, we asked staff what they see in the future for Lever for Change’s storytelling. All of them said they wanted to see us continue to spotlight and engage applicant organizations, showcase their work, and to remember that the work of these organizations continues long after competitions close. Now that there is a Content Library to pull from, Lever for Change staff should have impactful stories and insights to continue to share.

What kinds of stories would you like to see from LFC in the future? Tell us in this very short survey.

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