Making History: Telling Our Story by Ashanthi De Silva

YNPN Chicago Board of Directors Speak!

After a speech by Kim Bobo (Executive Director of International Worker Justice) at YNPN Chicago’s 2012 Annual Celebration in April, I returned home impressed and inspired. She had listed 10 motivational steps for all nonprofit professionals to follow. One really struck a chord with me: “keep writing; this will be our history.”

Nonprofit work, whether in development, direct service, or other channels, often requires more than eight hours a day. Clients come in and out, there are numerous meetings with funders, letters to donors, and of course the consistent deadlines for reports and proposals. While some organizations do a better job than others, it is easy to get lost in our short- term ‘to-do lists.’ What we often forget is that we have a unique insight into the lives of many different kinds of people: refugees, immigrants, entrepreneurs, young adults, etc., as our missions revolve around meeting the needs of the underserved. As nonprofit leaders of change, it is our responsibility to document and share the stories of our clients carefully and accurately.

By sharing our stories, we can reap innumerable benefits.

·        It becomes easier to answer the question, “So, what does your organization do?” These stories will help to brand an organization’s image in the public eye.

·        We gain the ability to turn readers into potential volunteers, donors, and supporters, as they will have a glimpse into the lives of the underserved.

·        Everyday stories of hardship, sacrifice, and triumph are more likely to be remembered, and convey a sense of urgency than any statistics we can cite in our reports.

·        We can give voice to individuals and their communities.

As a quick anecdote, I am reminded of a young Iraqi teenager, Ahmed, and his family, who I had the pleasure of working with at a local community development organization in Columbus, Ohio. His family were all refugees from Baghdad, well educated back home, but unable to find employment in Columbus due to a lack of English proficiency. Ahmed’s father was ill, and the only positions he was qualified for were often physically demanding.

I enrolled Ahmed in our programs, helping him to save money for college and get matched funds. His visits were memorable, as he always came in smiling. Upon his completion of the program, he wrote a letter to me expressing his gratitude and his wish to further his education to help support his family. At such a young age, his sense of responsibility and dedication was humbling. I often thought, “How different would our nation and policies be if stories like this were regularly published about our youth and immigrant populations?” We now have at our fingertips a variety of outlets (newsletters, blogs, online news sites, etc.) to share powerful insights and stories that have the potential to change perceptions, raise awareness, and engrain these individual stories forever in our history.

Ashanthi De Silva is an enthusiastic nonprofit supporter. She holds a Masters in Public Administration from The Ohio State University and has worked in the sector for five years, mainly in program development and management, as well as resource development. She currently serves on YNPN Chicago’s Executive Board as an At-Large Board Member.

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One Response to Making History: Telling Our Story by Ashanthi De Silva

  1. Ashanthi — Great insight! Would love to connect in person and talk more about your ideas for creating and sharing stories about a nonprofit and its mission.
    Pon Angara
    Director, Barkada Circle

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