One day last March, a young woman named Rosa welcomed me, a coworker, and a photographer into her home, a duplex on a quiet street in Plainfield, New Jersey. Rosa and her husband had recently bought the refurbished home from my organization, and she was allowing us to share the story of her family.
The success story is a critical tool in the communications toolbox of nonprofits. It cannot convey the same breadth of impact as data and program studies, but when most effective, its portrayal of the human spirit elicits an emotional resonance and empathy in the reader, inspiring actions—policies, donations, engagement—that not even the most impressive numbers can induce on their own.
I was composing Rosa’s story for our annual report. I had composed a handful of success stories (good ones, I think) based on brief phone interviews, but since annual reports were among our most substantial and widely distributed communications pieces, I thought that it would be worthwhile to make the long drive to Rosa’s home and talk to her in person.
It was. While Rosa’s story was fundamentally one of having a home of her own and raising her children in a safe and healthy environment—invaluable circumstances in and of themselves, to be sure—I saw that her story was also about something more. It was about the car decals on the wall above her elder son’s crib. The smell of her mother’s cooking from upstairs. The tranquility with which her month-old baby boy slept by the living room window.
Those scenes seemed to me to represent what a home really meant to Rosa. We wanted our supporters to feel that each of the hundreds of residential properties we built or financed that year—or would built in the next year—would offer someone the same value of home.