Bringing A Narrative Eye to Philanthropy – Part 2


Philanthropy411, is currently covering the Council on Foundations conference with the help of a blog team.  This is a guest post by Jorge Cino, Social Media Fellow, at the Levi Strauss Foundation.

by Jorge Cino

Note: You can access the first part of this post here.

While in Philadelphia for the national conferences of Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy and the Council on Foundations, I shared the Levi Strauss Foundation’s social media strategy with other emerging colleagues. Most were surprised to know we focused our efforts on blogging and not on “viral” tools like Twitter and Facebook. I explained that, like Beth Kanter suggests in her book, “The Networked Nonprofit,” we prefer to narrow our focus on one element of social media and concentrate on using it to its full potential.

To develop the unique and challenging art of blogging successfully, bringing program staff aboard and acclimating them to the process of storytelling has proven key.

I will expand on this format’s particular demands in my next post. In the mean time, I wanted to share how I helped grant makers look at their grant portfolios with a narrative eye.

I proposed the following method:

Which stories?

Which five grants in your portfolio immediately stand out to you? Focusing on a discreet number of grants served to reduce the intimidation factor.  By allowing us to examine each story opportunity in greater depth, it made the project more manageable. 

What makes each grant resonate with you? To help them think through this question, I suggested that grant makers consider the following lynchpins: 1) the people they met at the organization, 2) the personal stories they encountered on the ground, 3) the unique value or contribution offered by the organization involvement, and 4) the impact the grant or organization generated.

What story angle?

When you are able to convey: “Why does this grant matter to me, and why does it matter to people on the ground?” you have implicitly honed in on the “so what?” of each story.

The storytelling process has thus begun.

As you talk about a grantee, think about: 1) the particular work it is carrying out, 2) the persons who are making this happen, and 3) one or two revealing moments you witnessed while on-site.


At the Levi Strauss Foundation, our goal was not to morph everyone into a natural storyteller; rather, it was to foster a collective sense of ownership and accountability over this project. As program staff participated in this culling process, we made it clear that it was my role to develop an original frame for each story, filter out jargon and connect the narrative to the organization’s core values (originality, integrity, empathy and courage), rich legacy (spanning 157 years) and pioneering spirit.

In the third and final part of this series, I will outline five guiding principles to bring a narrative eye to foundation storytelling.

Is your organization blogging? Who in your staff is encouraged to blog? Has your organization designed guidelines to maximize the use of this new media outlet?

Kris is a sought after philanthropy advisor, expert and award-winning author. She has helped over 90 foundations and philanthropists strategically allocate and assess over half a billion dollars in grants and gifts.

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