After looking at what makes a great story through the lens of video and podcast production, today our Storytelling for Nonprofits series takes a look at the inspiring and growing movement of solutions storytelling.
What is Solutions Storytelling?
The solutions movement originates in the world of journalism with an approach to communication that uncovers and disseminates viable responses (aka solutions) to social problems. Rather than the usual focus on gloom and doom, solutions journalists deliberately bring attention to interventions that foster deeper understanding, greater dialogue and, ultimately, change. The hallmark of this kind of journalism is rigorous reporting on the often overlooked world of solutions. This means that, rather than being overly-optimistic or hypothetical, journalists write their stories of change by following the same high standards of any respectable journalistic story: a focus on facts (and fact-checking), investigative skills to “tell the whole story”, an inclusive approach to representation and diversity, and, of course, compelling and original takes on long-standing issues. In short, this approach is about bringing “the same attention and rigor to stories about responses to problems” as we do with the problem themselves. The result? The Solutions Journalism Network puts it this way: “doing so, we believe, can elevate public discourse, spur citizen agency, and reduce polarization. It can strengthen democracy”.
As a member of the nonprofit community, chances are your work is already advancing many of the same values and goals. Chances are it is also providing you with inside knowledge about specific issues and communities that contribute to your unique point of view. The work that you do, and the programs that you run, therefore carry enormous potential to be shared with a broader audience in the form of insights and stories that offer concrete solutions and reflections to many of the conversations our society is having right now. If your organization has a communications strategy, or is looking to build an audience by sharing more of its own stories, adopting a solutions-oriented approach may be a valuable way to align your content to your broader social change goals.
How Do I Write a Solutions-Based Story?
When brainstorming the angle of your next story, it might be helpful to think about Solutions Journalism’s underlying principles. As the Network explains, “Solutions journalism heightens accountability by reporting on where and how people are doing better against a problem — removing excuses and setting a bar for what citizens should expect from institutions or governments. It offers a more comprehensive and representative view of the world. And it circulates timely knowledge to help society self-correct, spotlighting adaptive responses that people and communities can learn from.” Even if your communications strategy focuses primarily on social media or blog posts rather than journalistic articles, there are a number of shared principles that apply to nonprofit storytelling as well.
Don't Be Afraid to 'Get Real':
The stories that tend to have the most impact are the ones that don’t stop at the ‘how’ you do what you do––they are also clear about why it’s important to do it. If your nonprofit is working to offer a tangible intervention in your community, don’t be afraid to name what motivated you to take action in the first place.
Showcase Your Expertise:
If you have an approach that is yielding positive results, share your progress and your successes by telling your solution story! Showcasing expertise is the cornerstone of engaging storytelling––and your experience and insights are unique. Sharing them may inspire your peers to do the same and could lead to more collaborations and innovation.
Posts that have the most resonance are the ones that come across as authentic and rooted in real-life experience. Be intentional about using your storytelling to bring in diverse perspectives, open up space for those who may have the least access to communications platforms, and to bring visibility to experiences that may otherwise remain in the margins. That connection is what will build community and deepen understanding in the long run.
Build a Bridge:
Think of your storytelling strategy as an opportunity to serve as a bridge between a problem and a solution; between frontline organizations like yours and institutions with the power to learn from you and enact broader structural change. BE CREATIVE: And, of course, there are no limits to how to share your stories with the world! Whether it’s in the form of an article or a social media post or a video, or a podcast… there are many ways to bring a story to life. Experiment with multimedia options, be clear about your ‘why’, and have fun along the way!
Learning More About Solutions Storytelling
If you’d like to learn more about solutions-based approaches to storytelling and how they might work for your organization, there are a number of wonderful resources available to support your exploration.
- The Solutions Story Tracker features over 10,000 stories about people building a better world and is a great source of inspiration! For example, the database has over 1,000 stories on how people are containing COVID-19 and caring for each other during the pandemic. (It also includes stories about fair voting and electoral systems, ways to improve race relations, and lots more).
- SolutionsU is a platform that is intended for non-journalists interested in solutions storytelling and how to do it effectively. It features stories by collection as well as lots of valuable training and educational resources that are freely available.
- The Whole Story is an ever-evolving blog––available in three languages––that offers real-time reflections on solutions journalism and today’s top stories. The blog includes curated sections that explain ‘how to do SJ’ and how to write about equity in the context of storytelling.
- The Hub features an impressive array of free training materials––available in the form of webinars and toolkits––that cover anything from the basics to engagement to video-based storytelling and lots more.
In Canada, you could also consider turning your stories into journalistic collaborations. Outlets like Local Love and Future of Good frequently run stories that are solutions-based, and Journalists for Human Rights works with and trains key civil society organizations to collect and disseminate data contributing to access to information. They also run a multi-award winning Indigenous Reporters Program that seeks to increase the quality and quantity of Indigenous stories and voices in media in Canada. Curious about what solutions journalism and collaboration look like in action? Check out this video about the homelessness epidemic in San Francisco and how journalists came together to ‘tell the whole story’: