Here is another in my series on SXSW events. I am pleased to be attending SXSW for the first time. I am grateful for Adobe Acrobat for enabling me to attend. I will be attending a number of Adobe sponsored sessions. As I do with other events I will be posting my notes from most of the sessions I attend. This is the session on No Brochures: Digital Storytelling for Nonprofits led by Joe Lambert, Exec Dir Center for Digital Storytelling, Michael Borum, Web Mgr Oxfam America, and Roger Black, Principal Treesaver Company Inc. Here is the session description.
“Storytelling is an inherently key aspect of non-profit business. Donors deserve to know how their gifts are having an impact; potential donors need to know how they can make a difference. But are non-profits truly "thinking digital" when it comes to getting their stories noticed? Are we stuck in brochure mode? The next generation of philanthropists—and beyond—is comprised of digital natives, far more accustomed to non-linear interactive storytelling and far more comfortable with a touchscreen than a staple-bound booklet. Donors are expecting to see complex, layered data presented in the form of colorful, entertaining, easily digestible media. This panel will discuss and explore alternate approaches to get your story noticed across a range of digital platforms.”
Michael said that Oxfam is still trying to figure how to best use digital channels. The goal of the session today is to listen to what the experts on the panel have to say. Roger has done a lot of work for Web sites for non-profits. Lately he works on at Treesaver, that is an open source publishing platform. Roger was taught as a print designer. You assemble pages to engage readers. Now in digital world you add space for people to add content. It is more of a two-way connection. One issue is how you find things within the Web site. If everything is nicely tagged you can find things easily.
With a book, when you start reading a book you get lost in the content but the quality of the physical book itself is less of an issue. In the Web you want connection and quality of format matters. Many non-profits started with brochure like Web sites and added blogs. People want a social layer beyond the blog. Now multiple target audiences are added and multiple devices with different interfaces. Roger showed how a story can be adapted to the size of the screen. Treesaver.net is an HTML5 platform based on Java script. It is open source.
Joe went next. He is from a small town in Texas. He felt his Texas stories were not being told, only those on both coasts. In the 1930s there were union strikes about pecan workers. His parents were there and did a lot of work around social justice. He told about a group in the Rio Grande Valley community that sent children to top colleges who then came back to serve as teachers to the community. The community told an amazing story about how this program started and the reason for it that he showed us on video. It had much greater impact with its focus on individual lives than concepts or numbers. People give money because of the impact on individuals.
Storytellers should give control over creating stories to the groups who have the stories. Joe’s group has covered a variety of topics on a global basis. Digital stories are the key entry point. A big thing is to listen. You need to stop and take the time to listen. Look at www.storycenter.org.
Questions – for Treesaver. The asker does a lot of print, puts it in PDF and puts on the Web. How can digital be made to be more involved? The answer was that first print will not go away. It is not a replacement situation like cars over horses for transportation. There will always be a place for print. They are looking at how to learn from print to make digital more effective. But also they are looking at how to do things that make best use of the unique capabilities for digital.
They look to telling fewer stories over a longer period of time through many channels. They hope to modify these stories to better fit each channel, such as Facebook Timeline. It is best to have few good stories than many that are hard to follow.
Can people do a good job of listening on Twitter? Joe likes the Nicholas Carr book, The Shallows and I also agree (see Stepping Out of the Shallows: Moving from Push to Pull in Our Web Presence). Carr argues that we are losing our ability to concentrate because of the Web. Joe does not like Twitter for this reason but it can be a means to connect people. I actually like aspects of Twitter and do use it to connect with people. I have even shown my paintings and sold some through Twitter.
What about storytelling sites? Most work because there was already a community of practice sharing stories already. Many non-profits do not have a comment or donate button at the end of their stories and this is a huge missed opportunity. Many non-profits stay away from marketing as a bad thing but it is necessary.
Look at cowbird.com for a collection of stories with visuals. From Oxfam: Use few stories and make then count. You have to use different channels to make it stand out and encourage them to go deeper into the story. Try for deep than many. Do more with less. Quality counts more than quantity. As a rule, if you are feeling overworked, do less work, just more quality work. This is a good idea. I find it I am doing too much work, I must be doing something wrong.