Questions you need to ask to move from story lead to story development

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Do you have colleagues who regularly bring you leads on story ideas?

“We should tell more donor stories!”
“I have a great volunteer for you to profile!”
“I met someone at our event last night that you should feature in our newsletter!”

It’s great that you have colleagues who bring you story ideas. But as communicator it also means more work: you have to figure out which leads to pursue and whether or not it makes sense to allocate time and resources to developing them.

Do you need help with navigating the path from potential lead to story development and publication? If so, I’ve pulled together a few questions you can ask your colleagues to explore the strategic relevance and viability of publishing any story. These questions will help you to assess leads and ideas, understand the stories, get the information and logistical details you need, and perhaps, get a little support and involvement from your peers along the way.

Initial conversation: is it the right story?

When the lead first comes in, there are a few questions you can ask to get a sense of what the story is, the angle, and whether or not it makes sense to move forward with it:

  • What’s the story about? Can you sum it up in a sentence or two?
  • What can we achieve by sharing this story?
  • What call to action might we feature alongside this story?
  • What programs, events, campaigns or other offerings can we bring in to the story?

This discussion might take just a few minutes, but it will ensure that you aren’t dumped with a name, phone number and no clue what to do with them. You can work on answering the questions together with your colleague, using them to guide your discussion. As you “train” your colleagues to think strategically about stories over time, you may be able to send these questions – and ask for responses – via email.

Is this conversation going well? Does it make sense to move forward with this story? Then you can dig a little deeper...

How can this story fit into our communications mix?

To ensure that this new story is something you can leverage and build into your existing communications plans, ask the following:

  • Who is the audience for this story? Who are the intended readers?
  • Where might we use this story? For example, in our newsletter or direct mail, on our website or social media, in a printed report or video presentation – or some combination of these?
  • Is there any time sensitivity/opportunity? Thinking about editorial themes, holidays, events, announcements and campaigns, where would this story best fit into and support our editorial calendar?

As a communications pro, you may already have ideas or answers to these questions. However, by including colleagues in this part of the planning, you may glean some useful insights. It’s also an opportunity to shed light on your process – and existing content creation workload.

If these details are coming together and continue to make sense – and you’re both still excited about developing this story...

Get the details you need for story development

The next round of questions will help you get the practical information you need so you can write or otherwise develop the story:

  • Have you already talked to these individuals about being featured? If not, will you ask them if they are interested and willing, or should I? And if the latter, can you provide me with contact information?
  • If they’ve already agreed to participate, are they expecting to hear from me? Do you need to make an email introduction?
  • Do you already have existing background information that I can read and understand before asking them for details about their experience with our organization?
  • Do we already have photos or video footage that we can use? Do we need to arrange to get those?

I hope these questions help you to explore story leads and have meaningful conversations about which stories to feature, when. What do you think? Would these questions work for you? What other questions do you need to ask?

Note: if you are struggling to unearth story leads, check out these ideas from your fellow nonprofit communicators.

Marlene Oliveira is communications consultant and copywriter at moflow and founder of the Nonprofit MarCommunity blog. Having worked in the nonprofit sector since 1999, Marlene specializes in working with capacity building and grant-making organizations, advising on communications strategy, and writing stories and other content.

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