The Non-Profit Narrative: A Review

When I made the shift from performing storyteller to storytelling consultant, I had no Dan Portnoy to hold my hand. His new book, The Non-Profit Narrative, could have shortened the journey.

My switch from performer to consultant was a matter of survival. For years I suffered from the “imposter syndrome”. Storytelling was what I knew. Consulting was what I was learning with each new contract.

Yet everything storytelling taught me proved absolutely on target, whether clients were developing a mission statement, launching a fundraising campaign, writing proposals or evaluating their work.

In his book, Dan comes at these things through a narrative lens. What I struggled to articulate, with no guides to follow, he lays out in a friendly, simple methodology, shot through with stories.

What sets this book apart from what I learned in my consulting years (the early days of public-use Web), is that Dan is thoroughly steeped in the new technology. He takes his audience’s hand and walks them through a social media campaign that starts with developing the story line and ends with a full-blown plan for moving an organization forward.

The first part of the book will be of particular to help to those not quite certain how to create an organizational narrative. He writes, “If your organization is barely surviving, I would argue that you’ve likely lost the ability to unearth or communicate your true story.” And then he tells the reader how to do it.

We all know intuitively what draws us into a story, but Portnoy digs into it and identifies the elements. Numerous examples of good organizational storytelling help the reader understand what he’s driving at, such as Domino’s narrative about going from a cardboard pizza to a product they could be proud of.

For every element of the good non-profit story, Portnoy gives an example that will be recognizable to most readers. He calls on such cultural icons as Harry Potter and Star Wars to illustrate each part of a good story.

With story structure out of the way, he dives into the broader issue of what organizations can do with their stories. Non-profits will find bite-sized advice to follow, whether they are redefining their mission, raising funds for a particular project, keeping supporters engaged, or reporting to funders.

The book is well laid out and a whole lot more attractive than most e-books. A good proofreader could have caught some of the errors, and a good editor might have given the book a smoother flow. But Portnoy delivers on what he sets out to do, give non-profits a story-based approach to success.

This is a book to add to your shelf or tuck onto your e-reader and refer to at each stage of organizational planning, marketing and evaluation.

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