Three Reasons to Fund Storytelling

”The universe is made of stories, not of atoms,” said poet Muriel Rukeyser.

Just a year ago, Ruykeyser’s words proved to be transformational for the Findlay-Hancock County Community Foundation. As a program officer listening to a grantee report about a local man facing a terrible disease with amazing dignity, I felt called to capture this inspirational story using a medium that could convey its energy.  Grantee interim reports are usually full of data, but this was different; this one had soul.

In the past year, we have worked with a visual storytelling expert (Ben Severance of Timber & Frame) to help us tell our donor and grantee success stories. All of our stories are told in the same format used by the first humans as they told stories around the campfire—how one person facing significant odds overcomes the hurdles, resulting in positive change.  It’s the timeless story that humans are hardwired to understand: the story that shows our hearts why we should care about this cause and inspires us to act.

This post is part of the #CF100 Series of blog posts. The Council on Foundations is marking the 100th anniversary of the nation’s first community foundation, The Cleveland Foundation, by highlighting the roles of community foundations with this series.

As a program officer at a foundation, the question I seek to answer every day is “What difference does it make?”  After a year of experimenting with storytelling, I have seen the difference it makes. Here are a few examples:

1) Building Community Consciousness: Go Jackson Doll—a mini-documentary about a young boy with autism who participates in a local adaptive skating program serving children with special needs—premiered to a few dozen community leaders recently. The premiere was followed by a public screening attended by several hundred of our neighbors. We then released the film online and over 1,000 people watched it in a single evening.  This glimpse into the life of a local family affected by autism provided the opportunity for all sectors of our community to discuss autism, and spurred interest in the adaptive skating program.  This year the annual ice show was attended by a record standing room only crowd!

2) Fundraising: We recently launched Different but the Same, a short video highlighting a cross-cultural immersion program that connects international students from a local university and children in rural schools. Our community foundation funds this program, and we were thrilled when an individual who had seen the video was motivated to partially fund the program for three additional years by issuing a challenge grant to encourage other funders to join in his support of the program.

3) Volunteer Recruitment: These short commercials, funded by a Community Foundation grant to the Children’s Mentoring Connection, have helped secure so many new mentors that the organization is seeking more children to serve and implementing new delivery methods for mentorship.

As a funder, we are awarding grants to produce videos to help nonprofits share their stories. Simultaneously, we are tapping the magic of storytelling to tell our own story by highlighting community foundation donors, grantee projects, and the foundation’s founding story.  Please follow us on YouTube tcffindlay to hear our stories.


I so appreciate this posting on the value of storytelling. I worked with a nonprofit media production organization with members from all the world religions. Documentaries about social justice issue were powerful storytelling, yet we could get no traction with foundations despite strong community engagement plans per each. It also made grants to its membership relative to its mission . I wish we had your perspective on which to draw back then.

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