best practices data stories

How to know when a story should be kept quiet

Sometimes, silence is golden. A week ago, I was lucky enough to work with an organization changing the game for young people through mentorship. I taught a workshop for a dozen of its advocates and every story they created was genuine and impressive. Some stories were worth shouting from the rooftops but some they shouldn’t even whisper. Why not?

Story, vision, and data are besties who should never fight.
It’s so simple you might take it for granted. Every story you tell about your organization must reinforce your vision and your data. If you have a great statement to describe your vision, back it up with stories and data. If you have data you’re proud of, back it up with vision and story. Easy peasy lemon squeezey. And yet people forget…

Some of your stories aren’t for public consumption.
At the workshop, one of the participants told a great story about mentoring a pregnant teen. The storyteller, a superstar mentor, stuck by the young, expectant mother and was her rock through a tough time. Did the story reinforce the organization’s mission? Heck yeah. In fact, it delivered on several of the organization’s promises. It was a multi-faceted gem of a story. But did it reinforce the data? HELL NO. It contradicted it. One of the data points the organization is proud of (and vocal about) is helping to prevent teen parenthood. This story starred a pregnant teen. No bueno. It’s a shame to waste a story that’s so good. But wait…

Private consumption is good, too. 
That story can never leave the family (ahem, staff)—it can never get in front of a funder or go in an annual report—but the family can tell it over and over in-house. A story that might be controversial or confusing to external audiences can still work internally to inspire and educate staff. Only stories that reinforce both your mission and your data are fit to hit the street.

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