Use Storytelling to Report Nonprofit Outcomes

Nonprofit leaders may tend to associate storytelling with marketing efforts, but creating a narrative for your organization is equally helpful in outcomes measurement for nonprofits. ESC Consultant Barry Seltser breaks down what an organization’s story should include, and how nonprofit leaders can collect the necessary information to build an effective narrative for reporting outcomes.

Whether you are building an annual report targeted to constituents or presenting the outcomes of a particular project to your nonprofit’s board, all narratives must answer the following questions:

  • What is the situation?
  • What did we do?
  • Why did we do this?
  • What happened as a result of what we did?
  • Why does it matter?

The key goal in weaving a narrative for reporting outcomes is to attribute any change or improvement to what you did. The power of storytelling itself will make a greater impact and highlight the true accomplishments of any effort fully, linking your organization’s actions to the outcomes produced.

If your nonprofit is not already practicing storytelling as a part of your outcomes measurement process, you may be at a loss as to where content for such narratives can be found. How do you unlock these stories from wherever they are hiding? According to Barry, nonprofits have a breadth of sources to tap into.

In creating a narrative to report outcomes, nonprofit leaders should ask themselves: Who are my best informants? Who knows about my organization’s ability to help achieve optimal outcomes? In addition, whoever is assigned to interviewing people should consider where and when it is appropriate to approach these “storytellers”. These individuals tasked with asking the questions should consider where targeted interviewees would be most comfortable sharing their experiences, who they would be most comfortable talking to, and how they are most likely to give you the information you need (i.e. over the phone, in person, by email, etc.). While not all story-gathering opportunities can be anticipated, nonprofits should routinely ask for storytelling content during standard procedures such as exit interviews, regular reporting cycles and training sessions.

Has your nonprofit successfully used an organizational narrative to report outcomes? Please comment with success stories, further questions and discussion on this tactic.

ESC of New England offers management consulting and capacity building services in a variety of areas including Outcomes Measurement, Marketing, Strategic Planning and more. Please contact Ulea Lago, Director of Consulting, at for more information. We offer a complimentary 2-hour assessment visit to all interested nonprofits in eastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island.


Client Spotlight: St. Francis House

Boston’s St. Francis House, the largest day shelter in New England and a national leader in human services, was a successful organization in 2005 when Executive Director Karen LaFrazia first connected with ESC about Strategic Planning needs. Programs were running smoothly, staff and board relations were good, and there was a desire for growth. What the organization lacked, she said, was unification in how that growth opportunity should be met.

“We were talking internally to each other a lot, but we really needed to get out of our own dialogues,” Karen said.

St. Francis House connected with ESC consultants following a smaller-scale HR project in 2004. Realizing there was a larger project to tackle, Karen and her team enlisted ESC to take on a full Strategic Planning engagement. Karen said the choice to use ESC was easy after the several smaller projects our consultants had successful completed. ESC consultants, she said, offered outside perspective while maintaining sensitivity to the mission as nonprofit volunteers themselves.

“We needed more inputs and analysis,” Karen said. “but we needed some outside guidance. We were asking, ‘How will we do the analysis and engage this voice?’”

The ESC Consultant team helped Karen and the rest of the St. Francis house executive staff identify the key stakeholders that needed to be involved in the conversation about how the organization should grow. Then, ESC Consultants facilitated interviews and other analytical strategies involving constituents, staff, donors, board members and more.

“As we were creating opportunities through these conversations, we weren’t just getting input from the consultants—they were helping to foster consensus building among the entire Strategic Planning committee,” Karen said.

What resulted was St. Francis House’s first strategic plan, and a project that helped them significantly expand several programs that allow the organization to better serve the community, and therefore realize their mission more effectively. The strategic plan laid out intentions to increase abilities in permanent housing programs, temporary housing, vocational rehabilitation, and the core services of St. Francis House’s day shelter. Once these intentions were solidified through a strategic plan, Karen said the organization was better able to see just how these needs and opportunities were presenting themselves—in essence, the strategic planning process offered a comprehensive view of organizational realities, which the organization, although incredibly successful, had lacked beforehand.

One program in particular that was lifted by ESC’s consulting engagement was St. Francis House’s adult education Moving Ahead Plan, a workforce development program that identifies individual strengths and talents, then foster s those abilities, to assist their constituents in gaining employment. Following ESC’s Strategic Planning project, this program doubled in size, growing from a program able to serve 100 people per year to 200.

The Strategic Plan in general has given St. Francis House operational grounding that it previously lacked, and it was constructed in a way that allowed organization leaders to lead while consultants facilitated and guided.

“I think we were still getting our head around how to conduct the strategic planning process,” Karen said. “I remember the consultants being very good listeners and patient as we figured it out. They were all very good at giving us feedback, offering good reflective listening. We didn’t need three more voices. They were able to listen to what we were deliberating, facilitate, and move the dial.”

St. Francis House has continued to thrive since the Strategic Planning project, and ESC is proud to have had a hand in facilitating the growth of an organization that gives so much to the local community. If you believe your nonprofit could benefit from a Strategic Planning ESC consulting project, or any other type of management consulting project including HR, Marketing, Fundraising and more, please contact ESC’s Director of Consulting, Ulea Lago, at or call 617-357-5550 for more information.

How to Make Nonprofit Content Stick on Social Media


Some nonprofits are in a better position than others to create compelling content, especially in social media marketing. For instance, the number one tip we come across is to post compelling photos, but let’s explore that for a moment:  how can a nonprofit offering management consulting services compete with another working to find homes for kittens and puppies? It’s a question we ask ourselves often at ESC, but we’ve come across a few strategies that can put any nonprofit in a great position for recruitment, fundraising and general exposure on any social media platform.

Create content that works in a way that fits your brand
You see this same advice over and over again—post photos! Post videos! This can be an extremely simple process with huge results for “photogenic” organizations like animal shelters, nature conservations and other photo-friendly nonprofits. You also don’t need a media release signed by that dog up for adoption or a beautiful sunset. So what can organizations with more obstacles do?

One option is to post photos that are more genuinely graphics. Posting photos on social media is all about share-ability. Make a statement or insert a quote using sites like Quozio, ReciteThis, or BeHappy.Me, slap on your organization’s logo (Microsoft Paint will do the trick if that’s all your working with), and post away. This is the simplest way for organization’s who don’t necessarily have the subjects, time or resources to take photographs for content.

Share what’s already been created
Another strategy, while less direct, is to share photos from other pages that are relevant to your mission. If you work with other organizations, share their content and write unique posts that tie in your connection. Whatever connected content is out there is an opportunity to save you time—and as nonprofit professionals, we understand you can never save enough time in the day. You can, and should, do the same with videos. Work with your Marketing Manager, Executive Director, or Media Committee to decide how to promote your organization by rebranding relevant content.

Do less
Veering away from photo and video sharing exclusively, be sure that whatever you tweet, post, pin or share is accompanied by (or made up of) copy that is short and to the point. Even on Twitter where your messages are limited to 140 characters, don’t use up all the space if it’s not entirely necessary. As shown in the above graphic, attention spans online have dropped from 12 seconds to 8 seconds over the past 13 years. While this may seem like a tiny change, it represents the absolute necessity for content to be concise online. Don’t throw just anything on social media hoping for eyes. Take time to whittle down your words, simplify your images, and make sure that what you share is not just seem but absorbed in, quite literally, the blink of an eye.

If your nonprofit could benefit from social media marketing consulting or other consulting services, including traditional marketing, branding, strategic planning and more, please contact ESC Director of Consulting Ulea Lago at or call 617-357-5550.

Meet the ESC Consultants: Sue Ogle

One of ESC’s greatest assets is our ability to offer internal workshops and trainings to clients as part of any consulting project. Our trainings have proven to increase productivity among staff, build communications skills within boards, and strengthened executive teams at nonprofits of all sizes. We owe a great deal of our ability to offer such services to Consultant Sue Ogle, who joined ESC in 2002 and has made an incredible impact at our organizations and those that she consults to in the broadest sense possible.

Sue has presented as many as 75 workshops and worked on numerous consulting projects along the way. Her management experience has been built through years of work in independent consulting, higher education, social work and corporate training, and she is constantly driven by challenge. It’s only fitting that she would take on an opportunity several years ago to help expand ESC’s workshop offerings—both seminars implemented directly in consulting projects and others offered to nonprofit community members through sponsored programs.

Sue has specialized in employee burnout, succession planning, change management and many other areas helpful to nonprofit staff at all levels through her work with ESC. She has also maintained a passion for coaching both board chairs and nonprofit leaders.  One project that Sue takes particular pride in is an engagement that was initially entered as Strategic Planning but quickly turned out to be an emergency turnaround project. Without ESC’s assistance, Sue said the organization would have gone under in a matter of weeks.

“When we recognized the severity of the situation, we created a strategic advisory committee, turnaround plan, climate survey, and we interviewed all the staff,” she said. “Throughout the project we conducted a change workshop for staff, touched on morale issues, and did three different sections of a change workshop through lunchtime sessions. “

Sue said this project, which took over a year to complete, was successful due to the ESC team’s ability to look at the human side of the client’s situation as well at the financial. Through building close relationships with the staff, board members and volunteers, ESC consultants were able to facilitate a transition to a merger that best served the organization.

ESC is a consulting practice of experts who are engaged in continuous learning,” Sue said. “”The constant challenge at ESC, in the variety of projects and the call for consultants to always expand their capacities, is a huge benefit to clients and consultants alike”.

The contribution to the sector, varied challenges and ongoing learning are the reasons Sue cites for being a longtime consultant. Her colleagues agree—and have recognized Sue in with multiple awards for excellence in consulting and commitment to community.

5 Tips for Emergency Succession Planning

In nonprofit management, succession planning is an absolute necessity. Executive transition—no matter how long a leader holds his or her title—is inevitable over time. In her Succession Planning workshop, ESC Consultant Sue Ogle teaches that board members must be mindful of the possibility: What would happen if our Executive Director was not available to work starting tomorrow? Here are Sue’s top 5 tips for emergency Succession Planning.

1.) Ensure continuity of leadership
In the case of emergency succession, your nonprofit board must meet to confirm or decide upon an acting executive. While it is ideal to have an interim Executive Director lined up in the emergency plan itself, many organizations may not have the ability to make such a decision until a sudden departure occurs. In this case it is absolutely necessary for the board to meet and appoint a temporary leader as soon as possible.

2.) Establish a transition team
The transition team will serve as the body in charge of guiding and carrying out necessary changes in leadership. This group will clarify the roles and responsibilities of the acting executive as well as what board members will provide supervision or support of this individual.

3.) Communicate a short-term plan and timeline for permanent replacement
As the emergency turnover process continues, the transition team must clearly communicate a strategy to bring operations back to normalcy. If there is not someone on the board or closely involved with the organization who is fit or willing to take on this leadership role, an executive search must be employed.

4.) Review security issues and signatories
Any loose legal, financial, or human resources ends must be tied up and attended to at this time. This is one example of an area smaller nonprofits may not be able to effectively navigate alone—consider a Succession Planning consulting project if your organization may struggle in this area or any other step of the way.

5.)    Reach out to external stakeholders, funders, supporters and other important connected individuals or organizations
Finally, your nonprofit must update the key individuals and organizations on the executive transition. As with any major change, this time can be used to your advantage—all it takes is some creative thinking to produce a positive angle and get your organization back on its feet.

Taking all of these steps in a timely fashion ensures that a stressful situation that can put your nonprofit in jeopardy is handled in the most efficient and thorough way possible. If your organization is a candidate for Succession Planning consulting, or facilitation assistance in the execution of a preexisting succession plan, contact ESC Director of Consulting Ulea Lago at or 617-357-5550 to learn about our process including a two-hour complimentary assessment visit.

Nonprofit Marketing Tips: Selecting a Messaging Category

In marketing for nonprofits, the Messaging process consists of four key areas: Defining Your Target Audience, Selecting a Category, Creating Differentiation, and Constructing Reasons to Believe. The second phase, Selecting a Category, may seem like a simple task, but, according to ESC consultants Marjorie Bauer and Debra Yanofsky, there is a great deal of deliberation and careful evaluation that must be done before this step is taken.

Selecting a category, or frame of reference, is so important to the Messaging process because it helps your organization find a place in your audience’s mind. Potential donors, constituents, volunteers, funders and other individuals or organizations vital to your nonprofit will find and remember you through appropriate language—that which describes the type of organization your nonprofit falls under. This is helpful on a number of different levels, between a person’s ability to efficiently find your organization in an online search or a potential funder’s memory of your organization as a viable recipient of a major grant.

The Category selection process also determines your competition, and vice versa. Depending on how you define your organization’s frame of reference, you could put yourself in a tough position (where competition is fierce) or set yourself up to be a market leader. Ideally, you want to look for the biggest category in which you can be distinctive and have the highest level of competency possible among competitors. The nonprofit sector can be difficult to navigate in terms of competition as we often share missions with other organizations if not collaborate and partner with them directly. Still, you are competing for a place in people’s minds as well as for resources. With this in mind, you must carve out your distinction within your competitive market.

Messaging is all about highlighting your nonprofit’s unique strengths. When you approach this process in a structured way, results can be beyond what you’d ever imagined. If you are interested in learning more about how an ESC Marketing or Branding project can impact your nonprofit, please contact Ulea Lago at or call 607-357-5550. We offer a complimentary 2-hour assessment visit to all interested organizations in eastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

Client Spotlight: Northeast Arc

When Northeast Arc chose ESC of New England as the right organization to oversee a major Strategic Planning project, they were drawn by the variety of expertise among ESC Consultants. It’s no wonder—they called for assistance in Human Resources, Finance, Fundraising, Marketing, Health & Human Services Compliance, Outcomes Measurement and more.

“We liked the team approach ESC offered, and we were attracted by the organization’s experts in all fields,” Chief Operating Officer Joanne Plourde said. “We were quite delighted with the results of our engagement.”

At the time of this project’s inception, Northeast Arc was transforming into a more inclusive, interactive organization than it had ever been. While the nonprofit’s mission to “help people with disabilities become full participants in the community; choosing for themselves how to live, learn, work, socialize and play” was strong, management felt the organization’s vision could be implemented even more fully with ESC’s help, according to Joanne.

When Joanne began working in direct services with Northeast Arc’s behavioral program in 1983—her first position with the organization—there was no Human Resources department and no Management Information Systems. The agency was providing residential, vocational and family support programs.

By 2000, Joanne was working as Northeast Arc’s Assistant Director of Day Programs. The organization had added Day Habilitation by that time, and she was able to have a hand in the organization’s push for higher levels of interaction between constituents and staff. While the organization worked tirelessly to increase revenue through corporate donors, individual sponsors, and other alternative private gifts, staff and board members moved along to strengthen employment services, entrepreneurial initiatives, and more effective means of engaging people with disabilities in their communities.

In 2012, the organization had grown incredibly and felt a deep need for an updated, all-inclusive Strategic Plan. One of the greatest challenges Joanne and the rest of the management team felt was the struggle to stay connected with staff when there were so many people working under the Northeast Arc umbrella (today the organization employs 500 full-time and 100 part-time employees). The nonprofit also realized it had unmet needs in other areas such as marketing.

“Through the Environmental Scan process and the board retreat, we identified four areas to focus on: program services and sustainability, workforce development, board development, and marketing,” Joanne said. “Overall, the goal was to create a comprehensive support profile that would meet the changing needs of the people currently supported as well as the unmet needs of anyone needing or wanting services in the Northeast Arc community.”

Northeast Arc’s Strategic Planning project was a great undertaking within a very sizeable organization. The consultant team chosen for this project was made up of experts in Communications, Social Media, Finance and Health Care Compliance, Facilitation, Human Resources, Organizational Development, Data Analysis, Research, and Fundraising. The ESC consultant team included Jay Carty (team lead), Mike Byrnes, Michael Milczarek, Bill Huss, Dave Kourtz, Marianne Mortara, Sandi Gubin, Jeff Berman, and Al Gold.

The three most memorable pieces of Northeast Arc’s strategic plan to Joanne and Director of Development Susan Ring Brown are the Environmental Scan process, Consultant Al Gold’s Fundraising workshop conducted for the board, and the board retreat facilitated by ESC Consultant and Board Chair Bill Huss.

Between group roundtables within the staff, family-constituent forums, questionnaires completed by a variety of connected individuals and groups, and countless interviews with funders, competitors, board members, clients, community members and stakeholders, the ESC team was able to gather enough information to create a the foundation for a Strategic Plan that will carry Northeast Arc through 2017. This Environmental Scan phase, both women agreed, was more vital than they could have imagined before carrying it out, and it created unparalleled groundwork for the Strategic Plan moving forward.

Joanne and Susan also reflected on the impact of Al Gold’s Fundraising presentation to the board and management team as well as Bill Huss’ facilitation of a board retreat. While Al’s workshop strengthened the board and management team’s ability to tackle revenue initiatives, Bill served as an exceptional facilitator in guiding the staff and board through a day of collaboration at Nahant Lifesaving Station. Although Al and Bill’s roles were quite different in the Strategic Planning project, these two complimentary acts reflect how ESC teams work in general: individually with different styles, yet all of equal value to the organizations they serve together.

Since the completion of this Strategic Planning project, Northeast Arc has put new structural initiatives into action in many ways.

“We definitely feel things have been moving on,” Joanne said. “The Strategic Planning project did a great job facilitating a shift in the Board away from an operational Board toward a more strategic Board putting broad input into action.”

Following ESC’s engagement, the organization has held its most successful fundraiser in its 60-year history (fittingly through a 60th Anniversary Gala), created new business cards to quickly and efficiently market their services, and engaged staff members on all levels in a better organized and more encouraging way than ever before. All agree this already well-established organization has been able to realize its mission even more effectively, and continues to improve, with much thanks to the Strategic Plan.