What’s Your Story?
A clever hashtag can send a powerful message. By definition, these #keywords are used on social media sites to help users categorize messages. In practice, a good hashtag is a bit like a good book title; it makes people take notice, invites their curiosity and causes them to wonder about the rest of the story. One of my favorites is from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which asks followers to tell them why #ThisPlaceMatters. In other words, what's the story and why is it important? Although often applied to the preservation of historic buildings, or more specifically, to those buildings deemed endangered or at-risk, I think those of us working in other historic places (or places of history) would agree that it can apply to us too. Because our places do matter. But really, how well do we tell our own story?
As historians, we often pride ourselves in being story tellers. We tell stories of our buildings, our artifacts, our people, our events. But how well can we tell the story of "us?" How often and how well do we talk about our place – our historic site, our museum, our historical society, our archives – as something of value, something worth investing in? Certainly our local history organizations matter to us and we know they matter to our communities. But the question is: does your community know? Can you tell them why your mission is important? Have you? As stewards not only of our shared history but of our organizations, we must always be prepared (and in fact excited) to tell our story – to explain why our place matters.
The ability to communicate your organization’s story is a key component of garnering support. Whether you want to attract more members, compete for grants, create new partnerships or secure larger donations, you have to build a case for support. This case starts with your organization’s story: where it came from, where it is now and where it could go in the future (with additional investments of time, talent, and treasure on the part of your supporters). Once you have identified the myriad ways your organization matters, you will be better able to match people to messages, to strategically target parts of your story to the most receptive audiences.
As we kick off the Indiana Historical Society Heritage Support Grant program, we'll talk a lot more about how to leverage resources to build support. Through workshops and consultation with LHS coaches, we will help local history organizations prioritize and develop cases for support. We hope you’ll join us, but you don't have to wait on us! Start thinking now about how your organization fits into your community. Why does it matter? To whom does it matter? If you haven't stopped to answer this question, give it some thought. Remember that the heart of every case for support is the story. What is your organization's story? Why does your place matter? Talk to your board, your members, your guests and perhaps most importantly, talk with those who have never been through your door. The first step is knowing why #ThisPlaceMatters. The second step is telling others.
Jamie Simek helps organizations get organized. As the fundraising educator for Local History Services, she helps groups build capacity and improve their programming from the inside out. When she's not championing the Heritage Support Grants, you can find her reading historical fiction, feeding her genealogy habit or shuttling her kids between sports fields.