Once Upon a Grant: Storytelling for Sharing Impact
By Nicole Togno and Tim Podkul – Evidence and Insights, Fors Marsh

Do you ever wish that people were as excited about your work as you are? Disappointed that they don’t “get” what you’ve been able to accomplish? Afraid that what you’ve done and learned will go unappreciated – or worse -- unacted-upon? Remember these four simple words…

“Tell me a story.”

Stories are powerful tools. They give your work meaning beyond merely sharing the results in a report. Grant managers seeking to highlight their accomplishments should look for ways to tell performance stories – bringing grant impact to life through narratives that guide an audience through all the elements of your project and leave them with a clear sense of what should happen next.

The best performance stories contain these elements:

  • Context – what were the project’s purpose, goals, objectives, and needs?

  • Outcomes – what happened (both intended and unintended)?

  • Achievements – how did participants benefit and how did you make progress?

  • Lessons learned – was it the right approach, and if not, how did you respond?

  • Research quality – what assurances do you have that the story checks out?

Of course, a story is meaningless without an audience. Before you tell your story, think about who needs to hear it and why. Keep in mind that different audiences might have different needs; a federal agency looking to achieve broad programmatic goals may not be as close to the specific work as those with whom you collaborate – and certainly not as invested as direct beneficiaries of the effort. Using logic models or other techniques that link desired outcomes to more specific project efforts and interventions can help you ensure that your performance story is reaching your audience(s).

Because context is important, no two performance stories are alike – and should not be told the same:

  • Sometimes, you will tell your story in straightforward, plain language so an audience unfamiliar with their work can “find their way in.”

  • Other times, you might engage in a dialog with your audience, allowing them to “choose their own adventure” as they learn more about the work.

  • You might even use testimonials so that the work – and the people affected – can speak for themselves.

Keep in mind also that performance stories also do not stand alone: with each one you tell, you are not only describing your current project but also setting the scene for future work – building an “arc” that gives context to everything you have done and will continue to do.

We’d love to hear your story – and help you tell it to the people who need to hear it most.

Nicole Togno and Tim Podkul are a part of the Evidence and Insights division of Fors Marsh, a full-service consulting firm that specializes in building evidence about grant programs. www.forsmarsh.com