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How Non-Profits Use Storytelling to Support Their Cause | Interview with IJM Canada | Sound Stories


>>STEPHANIE Thank you for tuning in to Sound
Stories. I’m Stephanie Ciccarelli your host, and today
I’m joined by not one but two guests. This is very exciting for us. So I have from the International Justice Mission
Canada: Sunali Swaminathan and she’s a manager of marketing communications, and I also have
Mikayla Colthirst-Reed, who is a communications coordinator at International Justice Mission
Canada, welcome ladies. MIKAYLA>>Hi welcome, thank you. SUNALI>>Thanks for having us, and you did
a great job on my last name.>>STEPHANIE Oh my gosh well you know how many
times I practice it haha. I’m particularly excited to have you here
because IJM or International Justice Mission is something that is very dear to my heart,
and just so everyone knows, out of disclosure I am a supporter of IJM and recently I had
an opportunity to go down to see some of the work that they do. And it just so happened that you had all been
at some kind of a storytelling conference recently too, and so when I found that out
I was like oh my goodness like I would love to have them on to talk about how they’re
using story to help to get more awareness, but also maybe more supporters for what you
do. And so IJM is a not-for-profit organization. They do not make revenue, moneys, all these
fun things that a lot of us business folks often think about as being very important
in that way. But the work that they do has a greater currency
from what I can see.So if you wouldn’t mind Sunali, could you just explain a little bit
about what IJM Canada does?>>SUNALI Sure Stephanie. So IJM is the largest global anti-slavery
organization in the world, and we’re really committed to protecting the poor from everyday
violence. And that to a lot of people doesn’t make a
lot of sense when do you think every day violence they wonder what is that really? But everyday violence is not being able to
go to school and pursue being a little girl for example, because you are being trafficked
from home by someone in your family or a relative or it’s you know working day in and day out
on Lake Volta as a little boy instead of again you know going out and playing soccer with
your friends. We work to bring justice to the world’s most
marginalized. And we really want to ensure that everyone
has the liberty to be free.>>STEPHANIE Wow. You would just think everyone should be free
but clearly people are not and it’s heartbreaking, but you’re about to give us another heartbreaking
statistic. So Sunali, how many slaves are there in the
world today?>>SUNALI There are nearly forty seven million
children, women, and men, that are in slavery today, and that is actually more than the
population of Canada.>>STEPHANIE And this is why you need a fundraise,
fundraise. And like it’s such a big problem but, we know
that there are ways to solve it eventually, and I think it is a…. if you can eliminate
poverty than you can eliminate violence.>>SUNALI Absolutely I think I think poverty
underpins violence, but there is also changing of a mindset that needs to take place. I think you need to understand that people
shouldn’t own other human beings at the end of the day. And that’s part of the problem as well but
poverty certainly underpins the whole situation.>>STEPHANIE Absolutely. Now something I did want to stress with everyone
here is that this storytelling podcast is about how to use your resources really wisely. So for IJM obviously they’re not you know
making money in the same sort of ways, they’re getting money from supporters really. And so the finances that they have to work
with are very tight, and for some of you who are listening I’m sure you can relate to being
bootstrapped, or any other number… yeah anything else in that kind of department there,
where you know you don’t have a lot of money, but you need to use what you do have wisely
to tell your stories effectively in order to effect change of some kind. So to kind of kick this whole thing off I’d
like to just ask you a bit about that I know that you do have limited resources. So what would the trade-offs be for you? Like how do you decide what you’re going to
do and what you won’t do, and how does that affect the way that you can tell stories?>>SUNALI I think one of the things that we
make sure to plan out right from the get-go, is what are we going to talk about throughout
the year. We have different casework types that we deal
in, and we want to make sure that we share all of those stories, and so we really plan
that out. As projects come along one of the things we
have to constantly assess is one: Do we have the time to do it. Because with being a nonprofit it really it’s
from a marketing communication standpoint just Mikayla and I, and we need to make sure
that we actually have the finances to even take on a project of that sort. But initially it’s really just we use social
media, we have our monthly mailings that go out to tell our stories, but other than that
it’s word of mouth. So it’s talking to people, it’s getting out
there and just talking to people. Everyone in our organization is very passionate
about the work. And I would say if I had to speak on behalf
of everyone I would say all of us are quite liberal in sharing what IJM does with everyone
that we meet because it is something that we’re so passionate about.>>MIKAYLA I would add to that we have a really
great connection across the country with churches and donor networks, and our directors of development
are doing amazing work across the country connecting with these people. And so them telling those stories everywhere
in Canada and in turn, that setting off like a chain reaction to those churches and those
major donors spreading that word to everybody that they meet too, that does a lot of our
work for us.>>STEPHANIE So really you do have to know
your audience, and we say this all the time in this podcast: if you don’t know who your
audience is you don’t know what to say to them, frankly, or how to you know move them
in a certain way. You use all kinds of tools though to do this. So imagery. You have obviously in social media this is
very important because no one will look at an update and less it’s got an image these
days, you know be it a cat, or a dog, or maybe an alpaca.>>MIKAYLA We have used alpacas before.>>STEPHANIE Did you really? Oh my Gosh.>>SUNALI In Bolivia funnily enough.>>STEPHANIE You know what, I can believe it. So but I know the imagery is one and obviously
being able to take high-quality images to convey a story like they say of pictures is
more than a thousand words right so that’s important. You have print you work in online there are
multiple channels different media that you use in even podcasts, like I’ve listened to
some podcasts that have been done by IJM as well. So that being said, how is it that you can
use these stories that you have to help to to bring more not just awareness, but in your
case supporters. Because all the work that you do is actually
dependent on supporters as many other organizations you know rely on on that too. So how do you use story to help to bring them
in and develop that connection?>>MIKAYLA Absolutely, well I think one of
the main ways we we do use story to have people not just say oh that’s a nice cause but to
actually join is by presenting the problem very clearly, and presenting, or framing the
supporter the potential supporter as part of the solution to that problem. So we don’t just want them to look at it as
something that’s far away but we want them to see themselves as part of the IJM team,
the IJM family rallying with us to go and do the work on the front lines. It’s not just the people who are working in
the field, it’s us who are engaging the people in Canada to actually be a part of that team,
and a part of that family as well.>>STEPHANIE And a lot of that is through regular
communication, like you know your newsletters. I think there’s weekly newsletters, and in
other ways as well they’re different events that you host too. So but I was just thinking about this, and
it is really interesting. But when I was in Bolivia, and this can probably
apply to any situation but just bear with me here, I realized that I’ve been hearing
a lot of stories a lot of people sharing about what had happened to them or maybe what they’ve
worked on you know, in an organization you do need to talk about your successes, and
you know how you do things and, we can certainly touch on that later you know about getting
customer success stories and how that works for you. But what I was thinking about was how there
are stories that you can tell to a big group of people like on mass, everyone can hear
them you don’t really need to censor anything it’s just you know what everyone is able to
hear. And then you might have stories that can only
be told to a smaller group of people. And those might be more detailed, more poignant,
and they might have a little bit of a you know kind of I don’t want to say privacy around
it but you would certainly wouldn’t go off until it’s in a big group because it might
endanger somebody right. And then you have stories that are heard from
one person to another and you cannot tell them outside of that room. And so for me I was thinking you know as someone
who tells stories and tells an awful lot of stories it would seem, certainly our brand
itself is telling stories all over the world. It really struck me as a moment when I thought
you know what like you can’t tell every story. Or if you do tell a story you have to be very
careful sometimes when you’re doing that. Like there’s there’s just so many wonderful
things and so many very strange, and odd things, that I wanted to also talk about but I know
because now I have this kind of filter that I can run something through, is that some
of these can’t be told for a hundred years. It’s just the way it is, it might… people
could be in trouble in danger you don’t want to draw attention to certain things in certain
contexts. So for me I wonder sometimes like how does
that impact the way that you’re able to tell the story, to bring people in without jeopardizing
the vulnerability of the people that you serve?>>SUNALI Absolutely so one of the things that
IJM actually does have in place is we have a group of communications specialist at the
global level that actually collect all of these stories that that we can share on mass,
and they make sure to filter out any of the confidential details that we really do not
want shared. And to your point about you know some stories
can’t be told for a hundred years those stories are stories we’re still probably in process
with that case, and some of those cases do take 10, 20, 25 years, to actually see justice
served. But those communications specialists they
actually collect all of the stories and they put all of the details together and then send
them our way. and then we get to choose which story do we want to tell for IJM Canada, because
there are certain offices that we support like IJM Bolivia, and IJM Thailand in the
Philippines, Uganda… we have the Kampala office there, and then in India we have Delhi
and Kolkata and then we also have the Dominican Republic. So stories from those areas are typically
the stories that we would share with our constituents.>>STEPHANIE And you bring up a great point
because IJM is a global organization and you are the Canada office. There are other offices, there’s office in
the Netherlands and they’re headquartered in The Hague, and there are a handful of others,
and I can’t think of them offhand right now. But what I do know is that you guys are, or
you’re clearly working on stories that relate to the areas that you’re responsible for,
and those are projects that can only be funded and exist because you do get donations, you
have supporters right. And so that is just… I know there may be people who are listening
who are in a similar situation, where literally the only funds that they have to share or
to do anything with are those that they’ve collected. You know whether they be completely you know
charity kind of situation, or that. But it’s hard to be able to tell those stories
and even harder still to know that even though the work you’re doing is so amazing that there
are still so many people you can’t help, because you don’t have as much funds as you could
if, you know. Like it’s hard because I saw it you know first
hand, and I knew that they can only take on so many cases a year because of fundraising,
and possibly scale. Like how do you scale… but you can help
to scale awareness and education through your storytelling. So Mikayla, where have you seen success in
your digital storytelling?>>MIKAYLA Well I think definitely what gets
a lot of success is showing people that we are actually rescuing people, and giving them
that hope in those social media posts, in our mailings, in our emails that we send out. Showing them the stories of what can happen
if they do indeed choose to join alongside us and support IJM Canada’s mission. And I think that that works so well because
a lot of the times with with not-for-profits people are kind of skeptical like “where’s
my money going and what is my contribution actually doing?”. But we really take the time and we take the
intentional effort to communicate to our supporters and our potential supporters to that listen
you’re however much donation a month actually brought this girl out of human trafficking,
or it brought her through an aftercare program, or it freed this family from slavery. So I think communicating those stories and
we do it on mass, but also at an individual level for individual people, really moves
people to become a part of the movement.>>STEPHANIE Yeah and I’m just thinking of
it in our context, and what we would call that for our company and maybe some other
ones too, is a customer success story, or some kind of a profile, a case study, something
of this nature so so you’re using those sort of tools to help to bring more we’ll see education
case. But it’s also like a fulfillment like oh my
goodness I gave thing money didn’t just evaporate into thin air, this is a result you know that
these 30 slaves have been freed from a brick kiln possibly somewhere. Or like there’s any number of success stories
that I know that I personally seen, but that’s that’s amazing so are there any in particular
that you can highlight here.>>MIKAYLA Well I do know that last year we
had our largest rescue ever, and it was over 500 men, women, and children rescued from
a brick kiln. So that was and that was right after… or
no sorry that was right before we had another rescue followed with it, but over 300 people
rescued from a brick kiln… like a similar brick kiln. So I think that showing those stories of hope
it really it resonates with people because they say, “okay so I’m not only just rescuing
the one even though the one individual story that comes out of that a couple months later
is so important and it’s so meaningful”, but showing that we are actually making making
an impact not just us but the supporters that choose to give their money to IJM as well.>>STEPHANIE So do you kind of measure the
success of that campaign or that shared story in terms of how many likes it got, and how
many retweets, like the kind of are… you driving traffic back to your website also
when you’re linking there?>>MIKAYLA Yeah totally. So it is a combination of engagement and web
traffic back to that particular story and I find that you can tell how engaged people
are by the number of shares and comments. So it’s not just the click of like, which
is it’s good but it’s kind of easy to do that. But when people actually jump in and say “yeah
like congratulations so proud of you we were so happy two guys did this like you do such
good work”, that’s when you can really tell the impact that you’ve made, because people
are taking the time to do that. And not only comment but share it with their
friends and that’s a big that’s a big deal when people want to own something that you’ve
put out on social media and take it and put it… put their name behind it.>>STEPHANIE So definitely and so it really
does matter, and what you brought up is paramount for anybody. Like if you want your customer, your client,
whoever to actually share the content you produce they have to feel proud enough of
it…>>MIKAYLA Absolutely>>STEPHANIE …themselves
that they would then pop it onto their profile because you know it goes kind of like… it’s
more than just saying oh I like this passively. It’s like I endorse this or I’m part of this…… I want you to see this because it means something
to me.>>STEPHANIE Not too long ago you were at a
conference and it was all about storytelling, and maybe how to make it more effective, I
not entirely sure all the subjects you covered that week, but would you mind Sunali, Michaela
just sharing with us what your takeaways were. Like this was actually a storytelling conference
it’s perfect.>>SUNALI Oh it was it has to be probably one
of the best conferences that I’ve ever had the privilege of attending as a you know as
someone in marketing and communications, because it really did apply to any marketing and communications
professional. One of the big takeaways that I got out of
it is often when we go after a campaign or a project we go with what is going to work
for the organization and what… so it was Allen Clayton who did this conference, and
what he was talking about with starting with your big “why”. “Why are you doing this in the first place”? So in our case it is to end slavery, it is
to end violence against the poor, that is our “why”. Before you go into the what and the how, but
our brains naturally tend towards the how are we going to do this and what is this going
to do for IJM or for any organization really but we should be focused on the “why”. So I really appreciated that and starting
there he also talked about how most organizations that start with the “Why” tend to be very
successful in what they do and the other piece that he shared that I did like was he told
us to really use details as a way of telling our story, and to not eliminate those. Sometimes you try to make your story too short,
and he talked about the the value of using details in a story.>>MIKAYLA Yeah and just to add to that one
takeaway that I really got from the conference is the concept of the truth well told and
I think in the norm for-profit industry especially when we’re dealing with sensitive issues such
as human trafficking, and slavery, sometimes we’re scared that we’re going to offend people
or or scared that people are going to be sensitive to what we have to say, but I think that’s
honestly doing a disservice to our work ,and a disservice to our clients. Because a lot of the time when we’re gathering
stories from the field like Sonali mentioned, our communications team that goes to the field
and gather stories our clients the clients are telling their own story right. So we have to honor them by… we have to
honor their bravery by not shying away and not you know cutting things out of their story,
that they actually want to be heard. And I think that when we are not afraid to
tell the truth in a powerful way, and we obviously we tailor it to our audience we we know what
our Canadian constituents you know are sensitive to, we know they’re kind of culture about
cultural background and the angles that they would resonate most with, but the importance
of not taking away from the stories in order to to please or two to appear like…. we’re
we’re almost we don’t want to vet the client stories and we don’t want to mince their words
so that it’s actually not the truth anymore.>>STEPHANIE Right yeah. Just like anybody you don’t want to sanitize
a story right. I think that’s where the grit and kind of
the ugliness of it is there initially but one other thing I noticed as I was down there
is that these people that you work with they come in with one story and they are rehabilitated
in some way they’re restored, and they leave with a different story. So you know what you do have to talk about
the hard things and a lot of times, in our culture we don’t want to do that we don’t
want to look, or we’re desensitize, maybe we don’t even notice some of these things
and and believe them to be wrong. But that is something I’m really glad that
you mentioned because when you tell the truth, well you’re doing justice to whatever that
is, but you are also being unique and that’s something else that people creating content
want to be right.>>MIKAYLA Yes.>>STEPHANIE You know, because as soon as you
tell the truth about something because the truth is so rare these days, in certain ways,
that all of a sudden by purchase if I think you to tell the truth, your original you created
something of value and of means and something that really matters to people in and the more
I don’t want say the more raw, but the more honest that you are and the more integrity
that story has, the more weight it has and then you’re able to get more people as you
said to kind of join you in that mission or that cause and to helped it to do what you
would like to do which is to put an end to slavery.>>SUNALI I would also say that you know in
telling stories it’s our way of saying thank you to our supporters. And so we want to make sure that we do let
them know what that story was as accurately as we possibly can, because if it wasn’t for
you know the thousands of supporters that we have, we couldn’t do the work that we do
and those stories really wouldn’t happen the way that it played out if it wasn’t for them.>>STEPHANIE Yeah and I was just thinking internally
we have a process as you mentioned of collecting stories from people sometimes they come to
us with them but other times we need to go and ask them. So do you find that you are more or less asking
people if they would share their stories or do they readily come to you?>>SUNALI I would say a lot of our our survivors
are willing to share their story because they see it as a way to help others in that situation
as well and so they want their story told as a way of giving hope to others and that’s
really why they tell those stories and what they want to see. But it’s also a part of the healing process
for them to be able to share their story and so we don’t want to take that away from them.>>STEPHANIE Right.>>SUNALI But in in terms of Bolivia, when
we first started there the stat was you are more likely to die falling in your bathtub
than actually getting convicted for a case of assault.>>STEPHANIE Wow,>>SUNALI And so that has
changed over the last 10 years as a result of our team of staff that are down there working
every day, to ensure that this this doesn’t continue to happen.>>STEPHANIE And they’re, very everyone down
there is very passionate about the work they’re doing. I would say anyone who works for your organization
has to be passionate about what you do otherwise you could not survive a day working for your
company and the organization, but when I was down there there were actually two convictions. It was amazing.>>MIKAYLA Awesome.>>STEPHANIE Yeah and I’m not going to go into
detail, but they were hard-won victories. And I love the noisemakers the kind of the
party that went on, but this is what it is to celebrate your customers your clients. And then you’re able to tell those stories
after you’ve reached some kind of a verdict in some cases, but I know in others it doesn’t
always end up that way, but the most important thing for you is that your clients are restored
in that in itself can be a success story that you tell.>>SUNALI Absolutely.>>MIKAYLA I also have just one other comment
that I wanted to make too, is that while we’re we’re very focused on telling client stories
and field stories but it’s also important to remember the stories of our supporters
as well because that is so powerful. And recently we started a blog series of people
who fund raise for us and who do third-party events, and you know people like yourself
who have… who are supporters of IJM and who have experienced the work firsthand and
are really really moved by it. And I think that that’s an important aspect
of our storytelling because we can’t forget about those people that support us, and who
have had healing in their lives from being in contact with the work of IJM and connecting
to it on a deep deep level, because a lot of these people… It is healing for them as well. To be able to support us, and to give to us
into to hear the closure of our clients that are restored and they’ve come through this
hardship and they’ve come through this awful time of their lives stronger at the end of
it.>>STEPHANIE Definitely. So where can we see some of these stories? Before we go I want to make sure that everybody
here knows where they can see the good work that you’re doing but also if they would like
to try to emulate the style or the way or just how you’re interacting so well with your
client base, and supporter base, where should they go to see kind of IJM in action?>>MIKAYLA Well you can… our website is IJM.ca
a lot of those supporters stories that I mentioned our IJM.ca / blogs and…. our… we have monthly landing pages where
we set up stories from individual clients as well so IJM-dot-CA.>>SUNALI You can also find a lot of those
stories on social. It would essentially be facebook.com twitter
com and instagram.com /IJMCanada.>>STEPHANIE Perfect. Another aspect of content creation that I
wanted to cover with you because you do create so much amazing wonderful content that has
to be done a certain way, is that… like you must have some kind of a brand guidelines
something that you follow.>>SUNALI Absolutely and it’s quite robust. I would say everyone that joins IJM gets one
so we’re all familiar with the way that we tell stories and and what we want to portray
to our audience so that was probably the first thing that I got when I joined IJM. So I would and the newest employee there,
so I did get the brand guideline book and it just told it how do we want to communicate,
what’s our voice what are the values we want to convey, how do we want to tell our story. So for example we tell stories as it is so
we just tell it as it is. We don’t try to embellish our stories we try
to be very simple in the way that we tell our stories but not simplistic because the
type of work that we deal with is quite complex so we ensure that we actually share with our
audience what that work looks like in a way that they can understand it so.. We try to contextualize it in a way that they
might understand that story in the best way possible and we we make sure to honor our
clients, you know and that’s something that we know but what I found really interesting
is that our donors see that every single time we send out a story. And so just recently in Vancouver one of our
donors shared a story that he heard from the field and as he shared the story he conveyed
the exact same you know storytelling guideline that we follow. He used the exact same guideline in telling
that story without us ever having told him about it.>>STEPHANIE Wow.>>SUNALI and that was pretty impressive.>>STEPHANIE That is very impressive and you
have to be very careful to telling the story but you you want to make sure you tell the
story.>>SUNALI Exactly.>>STEPHANIE Thank you for tuning in, and if
you haven’t already done so, I’d like to invite you to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes,
as well as give us a rating. We love hearing from you and gathering your
feedback. Once again I’m your host, Stephanie Ciccarelli
and I hope you can join us for our next Sound Stories podcast.

Stephen Childs

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