CSBG Data Corner: Narratives are Data, Too!

— By Tabitha Beck, Research Director —

Numbers are fun (at least I think so)! But we cannot rely on numbers alone to tell a complete story. Reporting the outcomes of CSBG and Community Action should involve both quantitative and qualitative data – i.e. numbers and narratives.

Stories are critical communication tools. They should clarify the value of CSBG and Community Action, and showcase how your agency responds to tough community, family, and individual obstacles with competent, positive approaches that benefit the whole community. Research has shown that focusing on an individual’s personal story (frequently called “putting a face” on the problem) causes the reader to blame the individual for their plight. Instead, the central plot of your stories should be your agency’s own strategy for effectively fighting poverty and improving communities. It’s okay to include a personal story as long as it is built into the larger narrative as an example of how your programs have succeeded.

Remember, you know your agency, programs, and clients better than anyone else. You have the power to shape how the public, customers, legislators, and the community see your agency. Writing a personal success story may get your name in the paper or on a website today, but it will not be beneficial in the long run for demonstrating that Community Action makes a difference and that CSBG is worth funding. When you are asked for a personal success story, that’s an opportunity to educate the requestor on how your agency is more than a face – it’s an effective community-based anti-poverty organization. Make it easy for everyone to understand that your impact goes beyond just one person.

For more information on writing an effective narrative to showcase the strength of CSBG and Community Action, check out these NASCSP resources. You can also read Network success stories in the CSBG Annual Report, and on this blog.

Storytelling Guidebook – Comprehensive manual, a must-read for everyone in Community Action

Storytelling Brochure – Five Steps to Stronger Stories