Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Storytelling with support: Colorado Health Foundation's new venture

Colorado KaleidosCOpe: Stories of a state's health is a new website from the Colorado Health Foundation that offers incentives to grantees for sharing stories about the people they serve. Stories can be written narratives, like this one from a teen in need of dental care, or videos. Here's the twist: Stories selected for publication will earn the organizations $5000 for a video or $1000 for a written narrative, in the form of grant awards for general operations--often, the hardest kind of grant to get, as it can be used for something other than a specific project. The foundation offers FAQs and guidelines, a webinar, technical assistance from a video producer, a toolkit and other resources to aid submissions, and the foundation adds professional editing and posting. The final results are shareable and the foundation is urging its grantees to repurpose the content on other channels to make it work for them.

Lisa Harris, who directs web and new media communications for the foundation, shared the new venture with me and described it as a mix of communication, capacity-building, and concrete incentives. She took the time to answer some of my questions about this creative statewide storytelling campaign so you can learn from this new model:

Why not just take grantee stories and interpret them as a form of communications support?

Since 2007, grantee stories have been interpreted through our print and online magazine, Health Elevations. This year, we wanted to expand storytelling’s role at the Foundation and feature stories told from the perspective of people served by our grantee organizations. The Colorado KaleidosCOpe: Stories of a state’s health project is envisioned as a true partnership with our grantees and will benefit them through capacity-building and training opportunities along with grant awards for published works.

Do your grantees really have the time, resources and skills to contribute?

In addition to our grant funding, the Foundation supports capacity building for our grantees whenever possible. For example, we co-sponsored a 2010 social media training featuring nonprofit social media expert Beth Kanter. Beth so adeptly drove home the importance of storytelling and its significance for social media channels. After this training, grantees shared their enthusiasm about promoting health stories in their communities and told us they needed additional resources to get started. We listened and moved forward with storytelling campaign’s first steps.

The campaign kick off featured a grantee contest to name the entire campaign with the contest winner receiving a $5000 grant. This effort was the Foundation’s first venture into crowdsourcing and promoted the storytelling campaign’s partnership nature. We received over 50 contest entries and the submissions showed incredible spirit and passion for bettering health and health care in our communities. Plus, the contest helped get our grantees’ creative juices flowing.

As part of the Colorado KaleidosCOpe launch, the Foundation is hosting a Storytelling 101 training webinar featuring the award-winning experts at Chance Multimedia. The training will focus on best practices and technical advice for video and narrative works. Chance will also host a running series of office hours. Grantees can schedule technical assistance calls to talk through their submission ideas and plan how to best execute their stories. We felt these resources were indispensable in providing grantees with essential skills to promote their work beyond this campaign. The storytelling skill building focus will help grantees pitch stories to the media, support fundraising efforts and advance their advocacy work.

Our grantee partners range in size from very large groups to small, grassroots organizations. Some of our smallest nonprofits demonstrate time and again some of the most creative, savvy ways of instituting storytelling and social media in their organizations. We’ve heard from organizations of all sizes that they are very interested in participating.

Why the generous funding for selected submissions? What are you trying to reward or incent?

The grant awards were important to us as we deeply respect the time and effort our grantees put forth in the community. By asking them to participate in this project, we made sure their hard work and efforts benefited their organization in many ways including the grant awards. In addition to the grant awards, participating grantees will hone their storytelling skills through training and published pieces will be professionally produced for their own use.

Does this perhaps replace a more traditional form of communications? 
Our communications work is integrated. The Colorado KaleidosCOpe campaign is a natural companion to our existing work in media relations, both traditional and social, and is complimentary to our existing print and online publications. This project brings to light “real-life” health stories and will put faces on the health statistics around health reform, childhood obesity and other critical health issues. We will be repurposing Colorado KaleidosCOpe stories across all our communications channels and urge our grantees to do the same.

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