Telling Your Story

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The Importance of Telling Your Story You do good work, and now more than ever you need to share that work with the people influential in providing funding for your organization. The more your local media and elected officials are involved in your efforts, the more awareness community support and potential funding you will generate. Self-promotion is not wrong: it is the key to your continued success. THDA wants to help you be successful, because THDA is only as strong as the combined strength of the organizations it serves.

How to Find a Good Story Good stories are everywhere! You just need to be conscious of gathering them. Every time you meet a new person, serve a new client, go to a meeting, or visit a site, think to yourself- could this be a story? Often times, the work you do goes unnoticed because of a lack of before and after documentation. Some of the best ways to show the impact of your work to your community is to show (through words and visuals) that your work has improved the life of our fellow Tennesseans. Example: Your organization has plans to fix the roof, windows, and siding of a 95-year-old lady’s home. The siding is falling off, the roof is caving in, and you can stick your hand through the gaps between her window frames and the wall. One of the most effective ways to tell this story is through photography. Make sure you take before and after photos of the work you do. Try to stand in the same spot when you take both, so that when you compare the before photos to the after photos, your audience can see the vast improvements you brought to the client’s living conditions. If a particular item is in bad shape, like the walls or floor, take a picture of those as well.

Sevier County HOME Program Before

Sevier County HOME Program After


How to Share Your Story Once you have found your story, you have to craft it and deliver it in the most compelling way(s) possible. The following offer tips on crafting and messaging your story. This section will help you 1. Write a good story 2. Use “Social Math” to frame your story 3. Choose your messenger 4. Understand the importance of visuals 5. Build events around your story

1. Telling Your Organization’s Story- How to Write a Good Story

Effectively telling your organization’s story is the most critical factor in sustaining and growing your organization. In general, the public, your donors, your members, your legislators and others prefer not to hear about numbers, statistics, facts or figures. They want to hear about the end result; they want to know about how someone’s life was changed. And for that, you need a story. Your informational brochure, annual report, website, speeches, presentations, and newsletters should all tell your story. So what makes a good story? Elizabeth Turnbull of the Turnbull Marketing Group gives us some guidelines: • Characters to whom you can relate •

A plot in which you can believe (and is relevant)

A clear message

A call to action that moves you

Characters to Whom You Can Relate: •

Need to be personable/likeable

Should evoke sympathy or display a vulnerability

Have a need that can be filled (with help from your organization, of course)

Must have a story that directly relates to your mission

Whenever possible, is not one of your organization’s staff members

A Plot in Which You Can Believe: •

Reflects some sort of conflict. Without conflict, there’s no need. Without need, there’s no reason for your organization.

Has a story-like feel

Ties directly to your mission

Is succinct

Invites the reader/viewer into the character’s world

A Clear Message: •

Is well-written. ◊ Use literary techniques like suspense to keep your audience intrigued. ◊ Hook them from the very beginning with a great opening line. ◊ Uses correct grammar and spelling.


Is descriptive. Involve all of your reader’s senses. Think about sight, sound, taste, touch, smell. Use action words, present tense and adjective.

Is clear and succinct.

A Call to Action That Moves You: •

Is direct. Do not beat around the bush. Clearly ask people to respond in the way in which you want them to respond.

Is repeated. Ask more than once.

Is urgent. Why now? Why me?

Is do-able. You’re not asking for millions of dollars or to organize something really complicated. You’re asking for something they can easily do.

2. Using “Social Math” to Frame Your Story

As discussed in the section “How to Write a Good Story” the public, your donors, your members, your legislators and others prefer not to hear too many numbers, statistics, facts or figures. However, there are times when it is necessary to use numbers to convey the magnitude of a situation. The use of “social math”-taking a large number and putting it into a social context- can make those numbers more comprehensible and meaningful for the audience. Social math can provide perspective on huge numbers that would not ordinarily resonate with the general public. It gives the reader or listener a point of comparison that he or she can relate to everyday life. The magnitude of social math will help you tell your story better by painting a picture with numbers. Example One: A large tub of movie theater popcorn (20 cups) packs in 76 grams of fat. Social Math: A large tub of movie theater popcorn (20 cups) packs in 76 grams of fat. That’s the equivalent of five full size Snickers bars ... or more than six McDonald’s cheeseburgers. Example Two: One less coal plant is like cutting 40% of Washington’s vehicle emissions. Social Math: One less coal plant is like cutting 40% of Washington State’s vehicle emissions. That amounts to all the cars and trucks in Seattle, Tacoma, and Spokane plus the 25 next largest cities in the state, combined.

3. Choosing Your Messenger

In regard to communication, all the brochures, websites and commercials in the world cannot beat the impact of face-to-face contact. Seize every opportunity you have to tell your story in person. The passion and commitment with which you speak can heavily influence a person’s perception of the issue. Key Traits in an Effective Messenger: •

Clear, articulate speech

Confident in speaking abilities (but not arrogant)

Familiar with the material and/or services your organization provides.

Ability to adapt speech to fit varying audiences. Example: Knows the difference in how to present information to the Board of Directors and to eighth grade students. 3

When possible, someone who the audience can see as an “indigenous messenger”- someone who is culturally connected to the audience. Example: Phillip Fulmer would carry a more positive cultural weight in Tennessee than Steve Spurrier, and therefore might be a better messenger.

4. The Importance of Visuals

You know the old saying a picture is worth a thousand words? Stories help people understand, but pictures help the reality set in. Use compelling, well-composed photographs to illustrate your point and use them as frequently as possible. Choose your pictures strategically for your audience. Don’t be afraid to use images that pull on the heartstrings or illustrate a need, especially in appeal letters. On the other hand, results-oriented pictures show that your organization is successful and trustworthy. Pictures of happy children playing in their yard, or people enjoying their homes evoke feelings of hope and joy. However, while a good picture can add credibility or help you make an emotional appeal, a poor-quality photo can diminish the credibility of your message, document, or presentation. Here are a few tips for creating better visuals, as well as some examples comparing good and bad photographs. •

Acquire a decent digital camera. A digital camera with 8 or more megapixels is recommended

• • • •

Learn your camera by taking LOTS of pictures. Remember, there are no film costs with digital cameras. Keep your camera with you. Consider Googling “basic photography tips” or something of that nature to find online tutorials. Be observant wherever you go. Start asking the question, “What would make a good photograph here?” If it would interest you, then shoot it.

Avoid using photographs that you would find boring. If you are bored, your audience will be too. Example: A candid photo of a beaming mother holding a child and the keys to her new home is more compelling than a staged photo where two people shake hands and pause for the photographer to take a photo.

• •

Make sure you have a signed photo release waiver from anyone whose picture you take. Save your photos on your computer in a logical fashion. There is nothing worse than taking a photo and being unable to locate it later.

The following illustrate good and bad examples of photos that THDA has received or taken over the years:

The subject is hidden behind a fence

Poor lighting

Blurry, poorly composed picture 4

Action shot, interesting angle

Good lighting and composition

Happy family with keys

5. Building Events around Stories

So how does THDA hope to partner with you in telling your organization’s story? The following checklist demonstrates how THDA hopes to assist you: Start to Finish Media Checklist for THDA Supported Repairs/Development/Etc.: 1. (After project funding is approved) Schedule a photo opportunity with the THDA CONNECT team. • Call 615-815-2130 to speak with the CONNECT team administrative assistant. • THDA CONNECT team members will come out and take a photo with you and any local elected officials involved in the project. • THDA will send out news releases with the photo announcing the funding allocation. 2. Take photos of the property BEFORE work begins. • Choose a spot to stand so you can replicate that photo throughout the project and again when the work is complete. 3. Acquire signed photo release(s) from homeowner/recipient. 4. (For new construction) schedule a groundbreaking ceremony and tell THDA’s CONNECT team the time and date or work with them to find a date and time. • Issue a media advisory for the event outlining who, what, when, where, why, and how this project will be undertaken • Invite local media, elected officials, and stakeholders to come out and break the ground on the development. Note: When using shovels, matching shovels can be used, but a mis-matched group of shovels is heartwarming. • Take pictures at this event! • For help planning and executing a groundbreaking, please contact THDA’s Public Affairs division. 5. Alert THDA Public Affairs division when work begins. • Provide THDA’s Public Affairs administrative assistant (615-815-2179) with the start date and projected completion date of the project. This will help THDA plan ways to promote your work. 6. Take pictures of work progress. Include workers and resident(s), if possible, to add interest and perspective.


7. Notify THDA’s Public Affairs division when work is nearing completion. • Provide THDA’s Public Affairs administrative assistant (615-815-2179) with the completion date of the project. 8. Take photographs after the project is complete, both of the project and the people. 9. Schedule a dedication/ribbon-cutting ceremony after project completion. • Issue a media advisory for the event outlining who, what, when, where, why the event is happening. • Invite local media, elected officials, and stakeholders to come out and celebrate. • Provide refreshments and the opportunity for the resident and stakeholders to say a few words. Example: Local Chamber of Commerce may wish to donate a flag or some other item. Organizations will sometimes present the resident with keys, a book, a plaque, or some other memento. • For assistance in planning and executing a ribbon-cutting or dedication ceremony, please contact THDA’s Public Affairs division. 10. (After dedication/ribbon-cutting ceremony) Draft a news release and send to your local media and to elected officials. • Send this to local news, media and elected officials who did not attend your dedication/ribbon-cutting ceremony. • This is your opportunity to tell the heartfelt story. Provide before/after photos and a brief story detailing ◊ What you did ◊ For whom you did it ◊ Why it was necessary (i.e. describe the need. THDA has lot of support data if you need help.) ◊ How the change has bettered the life of the resident and the community ◊ Mention your partners/funders ◊ Include a boilerplate with your organization’s information • For assistance writing news releases, or for templates, please contact THDA’s Public Affairs division. 11. Write thank you notes to any officials or media who attended your event and to any media who published your news release. 12. Send a link or print copy of any media your event received to your elected officials.

Sample Communications Materials and Tips The media can be great allies in letting people know that an investment in housing is one solution to solving economic issues in your community. Keeping the media involved as you prepare special events and activities will help your organization garner local visibility and attention to the important issue of affordable housing. This section provides samples of media materials with tips on using them for your media relations efforts and for use in educational, awareness raising and action planning. Included are: 1. Helpful Hints for Writing a News Release with a Draft Release 2. Emailing a News Release 3. Tips on Getting an Editorial Placed 4. Suggestions for Writing a Letter to the Editor 5. Tips for Contacting Policy makers 6

1. Tips for Writing a News Release

Many news stories are triggered by a timely, well-written news release. Sometimes newspapers will run the release word-for-word or with minor changes. Most media, however, will use it as background information. Following are some tips to help you in writing your own release to promote your organization’s news. •

Always have a good reason for developing a release. To be useful, a release must be newsworthy. For example, you might issue a release if your organization: ◊ Announces the results of a poll, survey or study that is relevant locally ◊ Launches a new public education program ◊ Achieves a milestone in production ◊ Begins a new type of service or makes significant changes to existing services ◊ Hires a new director or high-level staff person ◊ Receives a large grant or donation ◊ Wants to publicize the local impact of a national news event ◊ Plans local activities to tie into a well-known day, week or month ◊ Honors an individual or organization

Keep it short. News releases have a better chance of getting read if they are kept to about a page in length. They should contain short sentences and paragraphs.

Stick to the format. At the top of the page, include the name and phone number of a contact for more information. The release should begin with the name of your city and the date. If the release is longer than one page, type “-more-” at the bottom of each page except the last. Signify the end of the release by typing “###” centered after the last sentence.

Give the most important details first. Begin with a headline that summarizes the release. The first paragraph should answer the five questions “who, what, where, when, and how.“

Put the local connection at beginning. Local connections catch the attention of the reader.

Be careful with language. Avoid using slang or technical terms. If necessary, explain them.

Check for accuracy. Make sure to verify all spelling, statistics, names and titles.

Write factually. Editorial comments or other opinions should be expressed only in direct quotes.

Seek placement. Distribute your release to local print and broadcast reporters in your community. Follow up to encourage them to write or air a story. Try to schedule an interview with an official of your organization. Collect samples of any resulting coverage to document your outreach efforts.

Be sure to include quotes. Quotes make a release more interesting and gives support for your ideas.

Post on your website. Make sure the release is posted on your website for people to easily find.

Use letterhead. If you print the release or send a pdf, it should be on organizational letterhead.


2. Emailing a News Release

The most convenient form of sending a news release is through email. When emailing a news release it is important to keep an updated contact list of newspaper editors, radio shows and other possible recipients. The following tips are unique to emailing a news release.


Use simple text in the email. Fancy formatting is not necessary and may be changed due to conversion problems when sending the email to recipients. Make sure everything is justified on the left.

State “news release” in the subject line. In your subject line identify that you are writing regarding a news release. Be sure to say something intriguing to catch the editor’s attention. Sample subject line, “news release: Craven County Home Saved from Foreclosure”

Send news releases early in the day. The best time to send a news release is around lunch when people are checking their emails. By late afternoon, many are too busy to read a news release. Some also have found success early in the morning (5-6:30 a.m.).

Email news releases before Friday. Often times, newspaper staff are overwhelmed with putting together the weekend papers on Friday. If you would like your news release to be included in the weekend paper, you would need to send it earlier in the week.

3. Eight Tips on getting an Editorial IN YOUR NEWSPAPER

Editorials, that is, opinion pieces written by the newspapers’ editors, don’t just appear out of the blue. Advocates meet with editorial boards and try to convince them of the importance and immediacy of their issues and then ask the editorial board to take a position on the issue. Meeting with editorial boards takes some preparation but is very rewarding when a good editorial is written. Below are some steps for getting editorials: 1. Do your homework. Read some of the editorials previously published in your newspaper and pay attention to the patterns of positions they take. Does the newspaper tend to favor public investment in housing and other important programs? If the newspaper is against public spending or has an anti-housing angle, it’s probably better not to meet with them. You could invite an editorial against affordable housing, which is a step in the wrong direction. If the paper has a positive angle on issues relating to housing and social welfare problems, it’s a good idea to meet with their representatives. 2. Find out who the editors are and schedule a meeting. The editors’ names are usually listed just above the editorials and/or on the newspaper’s Web site. Jot down the names and positions. If there is an administrative assistant or scheduler for the editorial board, note that too. Call the newspaper office and tell them you’d like to schedule a meeting with the editorial board. They will ask for information about who you are, what your issue is and who will be coming with you. It’s very rare to have a meeting with the full editorial board; usually, one or two editors will meet with you. 3. Build a coalition to attend the meeting. Think about what angles on the affordable housing issue would be important to this paper and make sure they are represented. Consider bringing people who can tell their stories about struggling to find housing, shelter directors facing bed shortages, developers who can’t find the money to build affordable housing, or elected officials who are supportive of affordable housing. Brief everyone on how long they have to talk at the meeting (usually five minutes each) and to make sure to mention your organization in their comments. Remember: You requested this meeting so you control the agenda. Make sure you arrive prepared to make a presentation. 4. Bring helpful information in packets. You will want to include in the packet some data on affordable housing in your area that shows the local problem and any information you have about the local housing crisis, such as the rate of people turned away at overflowing local shelters, the length of the Section 8 Voucher waiting list, or personal stories from citizens of low income. Be sure to include possible solutions for these housing problems. People tend to become more engaged with a cause when there is hope that change can be achieved, especially when an organization has clear steps to move forward. Include also basic information about your organizations and what they do and about the attendees at the meeting. Make sure you also bring business cards. 5. Make your case in the meeting. Remember that you’re trying to convince the editors to take a position. Be persuasive, be factual, be timely and be prepared to answer questions about the issue. Make sure you give them a reason why it’s important for the paper to take a position and write an editorial on the issue this week instead of six months from now, like winter’s approach making homelessness life-threatening, or new numbers on unemployment showing more people will need affordable housing, or shelters’ being at capacity. At the end of the meeting, ask them if they think they’ll write an editorial about the issue. Make sure you give them your contact information in case they have more questions, and follow up later in the day to answer any questions you couldn’t answer in the meeting. 6. Follow up. Call the editors you met within three to five days and ask them if they need more information. Ask them if they’re planning on writing on the issue and offer to give them more information or contacts. 7. Call or email every time a story is run about your issue. This does not have to be long, just be sure to thank them for bringing attention to the issue. In addition, let them know that you are available to answer questions if they do articles on this topic in the future. 9

4. Tips on Writing a LETTER TO THE EDITOR

Be brief, be quick and leave your phone numbers. These are the three most important things to remember when writing letters to the editor. Be Brief. There’s a lot of competition for a small amount of space. Letters to the Editor should be no more than 200 words. Be Timely. If something grabs your attention, write the letter within one or two days because the best letter in the world won’t get printed if the newspaper gets it three or four weeks after the article to which it refers was printed. Personal Contact Information. Include your home and work phone numbers on your letter because many papers won’t print letters unless they can verify the author. Editorial contact information is located on the editorial page. Many papers accept letters by fax and email as well as regular mail these days. It never hurts to both fax and email. And you can be most certain by either faxing or emailing and then following up with a phone call to make sure the appropriate person got your letter. Other tips: 1. Use statistics sparingly. They can get confusing and overwhelming very quickly. 2. Mention an article already printed by the paper. This dramatically increases the chances that your letter will be run. 3. Remember your audience. In most cases, you’re trying to sway the public, not your adversary. Therefore, you should make an effort to be moderate and fair. This doesn’t mean you should be bland. But you should write with the average person in mind and use phrases and arguments that resonate with them. You don’t want John Q. Public to be turned off by your rhetoric and think, “Well, both sides are extremists.” 4. A catchy first line is helpful. Instead of “I’m writing to respond to the Post editorial of August 3…” try “The August 3 editorial left me wondering if Post editorial writers live in the real world.” 5. Don’t mention criticism that has been leveled against you. Avoid saying, “I am not a crook, thief and a liar as reported in last week’s Post.” Better to say, “Post readers wonder who’s telling the truth in the controversy over…” 6. Use short, punchy sentences. This makes it easier for the reader to follow your thinking and easier for the editor to cut the letter if necessary (better to have an edited version of your letter printed than none at all).


5. Tips for Contacting Elected Officials

Although speaking with elected officials about affordable housing issues may seem difficult and intimidating, often the biggest challenge is making the first phone call or writing the first letter. It’s important to remember that advocacy does not always take place on the Capitol steps or in a formal committee meeting. Often times it’s the informal conversations that truly make the difference. Meetings with elected officials can be a great source of information about issues affecting the availability of affordable housing in your community. State senators and representatives receive less mail than you might think–many say three letters on one topic is considered a flood of mail. Taking the time to write to your elected officials is an excellent way to show your concern, and it prompts them to pay attention. Here are some tips for writing to your elected officials: 1. Personalize your letter–relate your own experiences or those of your friends or neighbors. Elected officials want to understand what’s going on in their districts. 2. Keep it short. A one-page letter in your own handwriting or from a word processor is long enough to convey your concerns, but short enough to ensure that they’ll read it. 3. Always include your home address so that your elected official is sure you’re a constituent. Mail from constituents is taken much more seriously than letters from outside the district. 4. Always ask for a reply, in writing or on the telephone. This will let your official know that you’re watching him/ her and waiting to see where he/she stands on the issue. 5. Encourage your friends and neighbors to write letters. Offer to give them information or share a copy of your own letter to help them out. 6. Use this link to find your state and federal elected officials:

Other tips: In addition to writing and calling your elected officials, the value and importance of personal visits with them and/ or their staff while in the district cannot be stressed enough. Taking the time to stop by their offices and introduce yourself, as well as working to schedule outings when they are in town to see the work you have done, will have an invaluable effect on your relationship. For congressional delegations, do not be discouraged if you are meeting with a key staff member. Those staff members can advocate for you and are often times heavily involved in developing the opinions and stances of the elected official.

Special Thanks and Acknowledgements This booklet is provided to you on behalf of the Tennessee Housing Development Agency (THDA) to help advance the mission of affordable housing throughout the state. Much of the language and ideas within this book were adapted from a similar resource manual produced by the North Carolina Housing Coalition (NCHC). We would like to thank the NCHC for providing us with this material, and vicariously, for helping THDA support housing partners in Tennessee.


Faces Behind the Funding The Vision At THDA, we are proud of our partners and the work we accomplish together to provide safe, sound, affordable housing opportunities to Tennesseans. This year, we need you to help us tell that story. More than ever, these stories are useful to raise awareness of the programs we administer and the good work accomplished by those programs. As fiscal constraints tighten in Washington, D.C., we need to make sure that lawmakers and legislatures know that our work is impacting the lives of their constituents in substantial ways.

How can you help? THDA’s Public Affairs division would love to tell of the accomplishments we have made together, but WE NEED YOUR HELP! You are the feet on the ground. You are the ones who know the names and contact information of the Tennesseans who have received THDA assistance. Because these residents know you, they might be more comfortable with you than they are with a government official calling them. We need your help with two things: 1. Provide us with the name and contact information for yourself and the individual/family who has participated in one of THDA’s programs. This information can be delivered by email, phone, mail, spreadsheet, etc. Below you will find listed the information we need for each submission. 2. Help THDA’s Public Affairs staff schedule an interview with the individual/family. For questions or to submit Faces behind the Funding information, please contact: THDA Public Affairs Andrew Jackson Building, Third Floor 502 Deaderick St. Nashville, TN 37243 615-815-2179

PARTNER INFORMATION: Contact Name:___________________________________


Contact Email:___________________________________

Contact Phone:__________________________________

RESIDENT INFORMATION: Name: _____________________________________________________________________________________________ Home Street Address: ________________________________________________________________________________ City:_______________________________



Phone Number:__________________________ Resident benefited from which THDA program:____________________________________________________________

Photo Release: I grant to THDA, its representatives and employees, the right to take photographs of me and my property in connection with the THDA program that assisted me. I authorize THDA to use and publish photographs of me with or without my name, in print and/or electronically for such purposes as publicity, illustration, advertising and Web content. I have read and understand the photo release: Signature:_____________________________________________________


Printed name:_______________________________________________________________________________________

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