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Organic Storytelling: From WWOOF to Radish

A few weeks ago at Radish we all sat down as a team to discuss some of our favorite nonprofits. We each entered that meeting with a long list of organizations whose stories inspire and ignite our sense of passion and creativity, and WWOOF was right there at the top of my list.

WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) is an incredible organization and network that links volunteers with host farms from around the world. In exchange for help with daily projects and farming tasks, the host will provide food, accommodations, and an opportunity to gain a greater knowledge of organic farming practices and methodologies. Dozens of countries have national WWOOF groups, and the program continues to expand.

There’s a big reason this organization is pretty near and dear to my heart. In 2013, I spent about ten months traveling New Zealand, working on WWOOF registered farms all across the country. Nothing can describe the glee I felt when my farm directory arrived in the mail, it was like a real life choose-your-own-adventure book. As a WWOOF volunteer I found myself in all sorts of situations I could never have imagined (hiking through fields with a band of sheep dogs at my heels, bottle feeding calves at five o’clock in the morning, eating fresh vegetables pulled from the ground with my own two hands). It was an incredible opportunity to learn organic farming practices right there in the field, and to meet farmers and other volunteers committed to changing the way we grow our food and relate to our environment.

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A lot has happened since my time as a WWOOFer. I moved back to the United States and, after a few more adventures, I’ve settled right in as the Communications Manager at Radish Lab. And surprisingly, even though I am no longer a volunteer, I am learning more about nonprofits now than I ever thought I would.

Our team works with some pretty incredible organizations on a huge variety of projects. From complete website redesigns, to fun and engaging data visualizations, infographics, and video and photography projects, we wear many different hats. I have been lucky enough to witness the evolution of these projects from concept to design and development to launch, and have gained a better understanding of how to help organizations effectively engage with their audience through an online platform. One of the biggest things I’ve taken away from this process is the importance of storytelling for nonprofits.

Tricia Rose Burt, a writer, speaker, and regular contributor to the storytelling organization, The Moth, touched upon this point at this year’s SXSW Tell Me A Story event, which focused on storytelling for social good. Put simply, Burt said, the goal is to “tell stories that will move people to an action you want.”

If you’re a nonprofit like WWOOF, whose success relies heavily on the recruitment of a large volunteer base, the ongoing engagement of both active and past members is essential. A well crafted story, not only relays your organization’s mission, but can also create important calls to action that inspire people to get involved. It’s vital to engage with your volunteers, catalogue their experiences, and work to creatively recount their stories through a platform that will capture the interest of an audience on a larger scale. In fact, storytelling is so important for nonprofit volunteer engagement, there are whole conferences devoted to this art form. There is real power in storytelling, and since working at Radish Lab, I’ve seen first hand that a rich narrative can make all the difference.

Here are a few tips for nonprofit storytelling  I’ve picked up along the way:

  • Talk about real people accomplishing real things. Remember, people don’t give to organizations, they give to individuals. You need to show not just how your organization helps, but who they help. This person to person contact is essential for active engagement.
  • Be detailed and specific. Burt wisely notes at her SXSW talk, “the more specific you make a story, the more universal it becomes.” Use ages, locations, and compelling examples to create a real and lasting impression.
  • Outline what’s at stake. We need to know why this story is important throughout the narrative. Develop a scene that helps people understand exactly what can be gained and lost, and create an emotional investment in your characters.
  • End with an inspiring call to action. Whether you want to recruit new members, inspire donors to give, or mobilize volunteers, it’s important to let your audience know the next steps they can take to become more involved with your cause.

Throughout the last two years I have continuously shared the stories of my volunteer days to almost anyone who would listen, and even referred friends who were starting out on their own traveling adventures to the WWOOF program. Now that I’m at Radish, it’s exciting to realize that I’ve come full circle, from recounting my personal story, to joining a team that helps other organizations tell their own.

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