Sound Stories #007 – Getting Creative on a Creative’s Budget

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    Whether you’re a bootstrapping non-profit or an international conglomerate, we all have to find creative ways to communicate. Luckily, creating stories with organic buzz is what Mikayla Colthirst-Reid and Sunali Swaminathan from International Justice Mission Canada are all about. Learn how they tell sensitive but powerful tales, and turn members of the public into IJM Canada freedom partners.

    Learn more about IJM Canada or download the fact sheet.

    TRANSCRIPTION SOUND STORIES #007

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    Thank you for tuning in to Sound Stories. I’m Stephanie Ciccarelli, your host, and today I’m joined by not one but two guests. This is very exciting for us. I have from the International Justice Mission Canada, Sunali Swaminathan, and she’s the manager of marketing and communications. And I also have Mikayla Colthirst-Reid, who is a communications coordinator at International Justice Mission Canada. Welcome, ladies.

    Mikayla Colthirst-Reid:

    Hi, welcome. Thank you.

    Sunali Swaminathan:

    Thanks for having us. And you did a great job on my last name.

    Oh my gosh. Well, you know how many times I’ve practiced it. I’m particularly excited to have you here because IJM or International Justice Mission is something that is very dear to my heart. Just so everyone knows, at a disclosure, I am a supporter of IJM, and recently I had an opportunity to go down to see some of the work that they do. And it just so happened that you had all been at some kind of a storytelling conference recently, too. And so when I found that out, I’m like, “Oh my goodness. I would love to have them on to talk about how they’re using story to help to get more awareness, but also maybe more supporters for what you do.”

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    And so, IJM is a not-for-profit organization. They do not make revenue, monies, all these fun things that a lot of us business folk often think about as being very important in that way, but the work that they do has a greater currency from what I can see. So, if you wouldn’t mind, Sunali, could you just explain a little bit about what IJM candidate does?

    Sunali Swaminathan:

    Sure, Stephanie. IJM is the largest global anti-slavery organization in the world, and we’re really committed to protecting the poor from everyday violence and that to a lot of people doesn’t make a lot of sense. When you think everyday violence, they wonder what is that really? But everyday violence is not being able to go to school and pursue … being a little girl, for example, because you are being trafficked from home, by someone in your family, or a relative … or it’s working day in and day out on Lake Volta as a little boy, instead of, again, going out and playing soccer with your friends. We work to bring justice to the world’s most marginalized. And we really want to ensure that everyone has the liberty to be free.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    Wow, you would just think everyone should be free, but clearly people are not, and it’s heartbreaking, but you’re about to give us another heartbreaking statistic. So, Sunali, how many slaves are there in the world today?

    Sunali Swaminathan:

    There are nearly 47 million children, women and men that are in slavery today. And that is actually more than the population of Canada.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    And this is why you need to fundraise. Oh, it’s such a big problem, but we know that there are ways to solve it eventually. And I think it is … if you can eliminate poverty, then you can eliminate violence.

    Sunali Swaminathan:

    Absolutely. I think poverty underpins violence, but there’s also changing of a mindset that needs to take place. I think you need to understand that people shouldn’t own other human beings at the end of the day and that’s part of the problem as well, but poverty certainly underpins the whole situation.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    Absolutely. Now, something I did want to stress with everyone here is that this storytelling podcast is about how to use your resources really wisely. So for IJM, obviously they’re not making money in the same sort of ways. They’re getting money from supporters really. And so, the finances that they have to work with are very tight. And for some of you who are listening, I’m sure you can relate to being bootstrapped or any other number of … Yeah. Anything else in that kind of department there where you know you don’t have a lot of money, but you need to use what you do have wisely to tell your stories effectively in order to affect change of some kind. So to kind of kick this whole thing off, I’d like to just ask you a bit about that. I know that you do have limited resources.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    What would the trade-offs be for you? How do you decide what you’re going to do and what you won’t do? And how does that affect the way that you can tell stories?

    Sunali Swaminathan:

    I think one of the things that we make sure to plan out right from the get go is what are we going to talk about throughout the year? We have different casework types that we deal in and we want to make sure that we share all of those stories. And so we really plan that out as projects come along, one of the things we have to constantly assess is one, do we have the time to do it? Because with being a non-profit, it really is from a marketing communication standpoint, just Mikayla and I, and we need to make sure that we actually have the finances to even take on a project of that sort. But initially it’s really just, we use social media, we have our monthly mailings that go out to tell our stories, but other than that, it’s word of mouth. So it’s talking to people, it’s getting out there and just talking to people, everyone in our organization is very passionate about the work.

    Sunali Swaminathan:

    And I would say if I had to speak on behalf of everyone, I would say, all of us are quite liberal in sharing what IJM does with everyone that we meet, because it is something that we’re so passionate about.

    Mikayla Colthirst-Reid:

    Yeah. I would add too that we have a really great connection across the country with churches and donor networks and our directors of development are doing amazing work across the country, connecting with these people. And so them telling those stories everywhere in Canada and in turn that setting off a chain reaction to those churches and those major donors spreading that word to everybody that they meet, too, that does a lot of our work for us.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    So, really you do have to know your audience. And we say this all the time on this podcast, if you don’t know who your audience is, you don’t know what to say to them, frankly, or how to move them in a certain way. You use all kinds of tools though, to do this. So, imagery you have, obviously in social media, this is very important because no one will look at an update unless it’s got an image these days be it a cat or dog, maybe an alpaca, I don’t know, but-

    Mikayla Colthirst-Reid:

    We’ve used alpacas before.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    Did you really? Oh my gosh.

    Mikayla Colthirst-Reid:

    Yeah, in Bolivia, funnily enough.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    You know what? I can believe it. But I know the imagery is one and obviously being able to take high quality images to convey a story, like they say a picture is more than a thousand words, right? So, that’s important. You have print, you work in online, there are multiple channels, different media that you use, and even podcasts. I’ve listened to some podcasts that have been done by IGM, as well. So that being said, how is it that you can use these stories that you have to help to bring more … not just awareness, but in your case supporters, because all the work that you do is actually dependent on supporters as many other organizations rely on that, too. So how do you use story to help to bring them in and develop that connection?

    Mikayla Colthirst-Reid:

    Absolutely. Well, I think one of the main ways we do use story to have people not just say, “Oh, that’s a nice cause.” But to actually join is by presenting the problem very clearly and presenting, or framing the supporter, the potential supporter, as part of the solution to that problem. So we don’t just want them to look at it as something that’s far away, but we want them to see themselves as part of the IJM team, the IJM family, rallying with us to go and do the work on the front lines. It’s not just the people who are working in the field, it’s us, who are engaging the people in Canada to actually be a part of that team and a part of that family as well.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    And a lot of that is through regular communication, your newsletters, I think there’s weekly newsletters and other ways as well. There are different events that you host, too. But I was just thinking about this and it is really interesting, but when I was in Bolivia and this can probably apply to any situation, but just bear with me here, I realized that I’ve been hearing a lot of stories, a lot of people sharing, about what had happened to them, or maybe what they’d worked on … in an organization, you do need to talk about your successes and kind of how you do things. And we can certainly touch on that later about getting customer success stories and how that works for you, but what I was thinking about was how there are stories that you can tell to a big group of people like en mass, everyone can hear them. You don’t really need to censor anything. It’s just what everyone is able to hear.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    And then you might have stories that can only be told to a smaller group of people. And those may be more detailed and more poignant. And they might have a little bit of … I don’t want to say privacy around it, but you certainly wouldn’t go off and tell us in a big group, because it might endanger somebody. Right? And then you have stories that are heard from one person to another, and you cannot tell them outside of that room. So, for me, I was thinking, as someone who tells stories and tells an awful lot of stories, it would seem certainly our brand itself is telling stories all over the world. It really struck me as a moment when I thought, “You can’t tell every story.” Or if you do tell a story, you have to be very careful sometimes when you’re doing that.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    There’s just so many wonderful things and so many very strange and odd things that I wanted to also talk about, but I know because now I have this kind of filter that I can run something through is that some of these can’t be told for a hundred years. It’s just the way it is. People could be in trouble, in danger, you don’t want to draw attention to certain things in certain contexts. So for me, I wonder sometimes, how does that impact the way that you’re able to tell the story to bring people in without jeopardizing the vulnerability of the people that you serve?

    Sunali Swaminathan:

    Absolutely. So one of the things that IJM actually does have in place is we have a group of communications specialists at the global level that actually collect all of these stories that we can share en mass. And they make sure to filter out any of the confidential details that we really do not want shared. And to your point about, you know, some stories can’t be told for a hundred years. Those stories are stories where we’re still probably in process with that case and some of those cases do take 10, 20, 25 years to actually see justice served, but those communications specialists, they actually collect all of the stories. They put all of the details together and then send them our way. And then we get to choose which story do we want to tell for IJM Canada? Because there are certain offices that we support, like IJM Bolivia, and IJM Thailand, and the Philippines, Uganda. We have the Kampala office there. And then in India, we have Delhi in Kolkata, and then we also have the Dominican Republic. So stories from those areas are typically the stories that we would share with our constituents.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    And you bring up a great point because IJM is a global organization and you are the Canada office. There are other offices, there’s office in the Netherlands, and they’re headquartered in Den Haag. And there are a handful of others, I can’t think of them off hand right now, but what I do know is that you guys are … you’re clearly working on stories that relate to the areas that you’re responsible for. And those are projects that can only be funded and exist because you do get donations, you have supporters, right?

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    And so that is just a … I know there may be people who are listening, who are in a similar situation where literally the only funds that they have to share or to do anything with are those that they’ve collected. You know, whether they be completely … charity kind of situation, but it’s hard to be able to tell those stories and even harder still to know that even though the work you’re doing is so amazing that there are still so many people you can’t help because you don’t have as much funds as you could. It’s hard, because I saw it firsthand. I knew that they can only take on so many cases a year because of fundraising and possibly scale, how do you scale, but you can help to scale awareness and education through your storytelling. So Mikayla, where have you seen success in your digital storytelling?

    Mikayla Colthirst-Reid:

    Well, I think definitely what gets a lot of success is showing people that we are actually rescuing people and giving them that hope in those social media posts, in our mailings, in our emails that we send out, showing them the stories of what can happen if they do indeed choose to join alongside us and support IJM Canada’s mission. And I think that that works so well because a lot of the times with not-for-profits people are kind of skeptical like, “Where’s my money going? And what is my contribution actually doing?” But we really take the time and we take the intentional effort to communicate to our supporters and our potential supporters too, that listen … your however much donation a month actually brought this girl out of human trafficking or it brought her through an aftercare program or it freed this family from slavery. I think communicating those stories. And we do it on mass, but also at an individual level for individual people really moves people to become a part of the movement.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    Yeah. And I’m just thinking of it in our context and what we would call that for our company and maybe some other ones too, is a customer success story or some kind of a profile, a case study, something of this nature. So, you’re using those sort of tools to help, to bring more … well, it’s the education piece, but it’s also like a fulfillment, it’s like, “Oh my goodness. I gave to something, money didn’t just evaporate into thin air, this is the result.” You know, these 30 slaves have been freed from a brick kiln possibly somewhere. Or, like, there’s any number of success stories that I know I personally seen, but that’s amazing. So are there any in particular that you can highlight here?

    Mikayla Colthirst-Reid:

    Well, I do know that last year we had our largest rescue ever and it was over 500 men, women and children rescued from a brick kiln and that was right after … or no, sorry, that was right before we had another rescue followed with about over 300 people rescued from a brick kiln, like a similar brick kiln. I think that showing those stories of hope, it really … it resonates with people because they say, “Okay, so I’m not only just rescuing the one.” Even though the one individual story that comes out of that a couple of months later is so important and it’s so meaningful, but showing that we are actually making an impact in not just us, but the supporters that choose to give their money to IJM as well.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    So, do you measure the success of that campaign or that shared story in terms of how many likes it got, how many retweets, are you driving traffic back to your website also when you’re linking there?

    Mikayla Colthirst-Reid:

    Yeah, totally. So it is a combination of engagement and web traffic back to that particular story. And I find that you can tell how engaged people are by the number of shares and comments. It’s not just the click of like, which it’s good, but it’s kind of easy to do that but when people actually jump in and say, “Yeah, congratulations, I’m so proud of you. We’re so happy that you guys did this. You do such a good work.” That’s when you can really tell the impact that you’ve made because people are taking the time to do that and not only comment, but share it with their friends. And that’s a big deal when people want to own something that you’ve put out on social media and take it and put their name behind it.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    Definitely. And so it really does matter. And what you brought up is paramount for anybody. If you want your customer, your client, whoever to actually share the content you’ve produced, they have to feel proud enough of it themselves that they would then pop it on their profile because it’s more than just saying, “Oh, I like this passively. It’s like, I endorse this or I’m part of this. Or I want you to see this because it means something to me.” Not too long ago, you were at a conference and it was all about storytelling and maybe how to make it more effective. I am not entirely sure all of the subjects you covered that week, but would you mind Sunali and McKayla just sharing with us what your takeaways were? This was actually a storytelling conference. It’s perfect.

    Sunali Swaminathan:

    Oh, it has to be probably one of the best conferences that I’ve ever had the privilege of attending as someone in marketing and communications, because it really did apply to any marketing and communications professional. One of the big takeaways that I got out of it is often when we go after a campaign or a project, we go with what is going to work for the organization.

    Sunali Swaminathan:

    So it was Ellen Clayton who did this conference and what he was talking about was starting with your big why. Why are you doing this in the first place? So in our case, it is to end slavery. It is to end violence against the poor. That is our why. Before you go into the what and the how, but our brains naturally tend towards the how are we going to do this? And what is this going to do for IJM or for any organization really, but we should be focused on the why. So I really appreciated that. And starting there. He also talked about how most organizations that start with the why tend to be very successful in what they do. The other piece that he shared that I did like was he told us to really use details as a way of telling our story and to not eliminate those. Sometimes you try to make your story too short and he talked about the value of using details in a story.

    Mikayla Colthirst-Reid:

    Yeah. And just to add to that one takeaway that I really got from the conference is the concept of the truth well told. And I think in the non-for-profit industry, especially when we’re dealing with sensitive issues, such as human trafficking and slavery, sometimes we’re scared that we’re going to offend people, or we’re scared that people are going to be sensitive to what we have to say. But I think that’s honestly doing a disservice to our work and a disservice to our clients, because a lot of the time when we’re gathering stories from the field, like Sunali mentioned this, our communications team that goes to the field and gather stories from our clients, the clients are telling their own story, right? So we have to honor their bravery by not shying away and not cutting things out of their story that they actually want to be heard.

    Mikayla Colthirst-Reid:

    And I think that when we are not afraid to tell the truth in a powerful way and obviously we tailor it to our audience, we, we know what our Canadian constituents are sensitive to. We know their kind of cultural background and the angles that they would resonate most with, but the importance of not taking away from the stories in order to please, or to appear like we’re almost … we don’t want to vet the client’s stories and we don’t want to mince their words, so that it’s actually not the truth anymore.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    Right. Well, just like anybody, you don’t want to sanitize a story.

    Mikayla Colthirst-Reid:

    Exactly.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    Because that’s where the grit and kind of the ugliness of it is there initially but one other thing I’ve noticed as I was down there is that these people that you work with, they come in with one story and they are rehabilitated in some way, they are restored and they leave with a different story. You do have to talk about the hard things and a lot of times in our culture, we don’t want to do that, we don’t want to look, or we’re desensitize, maybe we don’t even notice some of these things and believe them to be wrong but that is something I’m really glad that you mentioned, because when you tell the truth, you’re doing justice to whatever that is, but you are also being unique.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    And that’s something else that people creating content want to be, because as soon as you tell the truth about something, because the truth is so rare these days in certain ways that all of a sudden, by virtue of the fact that you just told the truth, you’re original. You’ve created something of value and of means, and something that really matters to people. And the more … I don’t want to say the more raw, but the more honest that you are and the more integrity that story has, the more weight it has. And then you’re able to get more people, as you said, to join you in that mission or that cause, and to help, to do what you would like to do, which is to put an end to slavery.

    I would also say that in telling stories, it’s our way of saying thank you to our supporters. And so we want to make sure that we do let them know what that story was as accurately as we possibly can, because if it wasn’t for the thousands of supporters that we have, we couldn’t do the work that we do. And those stories really wouldn’t happen the way that it played out, if it wasn’t for them.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    Yeah. And I was just thinking internally, we have a process, as you mentioned, of collecting stories from people. Sometimes they come to us with them, but other times we need to go and ask them. So do you find that you are more or less asking people if they would share their stories or do they readily come to you?

    Sunali Swaminathan:

    I would say a lot of our survivors are willing to share their story because they see it as a way to help others in that situation as well. And so they want their story told as a way of giving hope to others. And that’s really why they tell those stories and what they want to see. But it’s also a part of the healing process for them to be able to share their story. And so we don’t want to take that away from them.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    Right.

    But in terms of Bolivia, when we first started there, the stat was you were more likely to die falling in your bathtub, then actually getting convicted for a case of assault.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    Wow.

    And so that has changed over the last 10 years as a result of our team of staff that are down there working every day to ensure that this doesn’t continue to happen.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    And they’re very … everyone down there, very passionate about the work they’re doing. I would say anyone who works for your organization has to be passionate about what you do otherwise you could not survive a day working for your company and the organization, but when I was down there, there were actually two convictions and it was amazing.

    Sunali Swaminathan:

    Awesome.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    Yeah. And I’m not going to go into detail, but they were hard won victories. And I love the noisemakers, the kind of the party that went on, but this is what it is to celebrate your customers, your clients. And then you’re able to tell those stories after you’ve reached some kind of a verdict in some cases, but I know in others, it doesn’t always end up that way, but the most important thing for you is that your clients are restored and that in itself can be a success story that you tell.

    Sunali Swaminathan:

    Absolutely.

    Mikayla Colthirst-Reid:

    I also have just one other comment that I wanted to make too, is that while we’re very focused on telling client stories and field stories, but it’s also important to remember the stories of our supporters as well, because that is so powerful. And recently we started a blog series of people who fundraise for us and who do third party events. And people like yourself who are supporters of IJM and who have experienced the work firsthand and are really, really moved by it. And I think that that’s an important aspect of our storytelling because we can’t forget about those people that support us and who have had healing in their lives from being in contact with the work of IJM and connecting to it on a deep, deep level, because a lot of these people, it is healing for them as well, to be able to support us and to give to us and to hear the closure of our clients that are restored. And they’ve come through this hardship and they’ve come through this awful time of their lives stronger at the end of it.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    Definitely. So where can we see some of these stories? Before we go, I want to make sure that everybody here knows where they can see the good work that you’re doing, but also if they would like to try to emulate the style or the way or just how you’re interacting so well with your client base and supporter base, where should they go to see IJM in action?

    Mikayla Colthirst-Reid:

    Well, our website is ijm.ca. A lot of those supporter stories that I mentioned are igm.ca/blogs and we have monthly landing pages where we set up stories from individual clients as well. So ijm.ca.

    Sunali Swaminathan:

    You can also a lot of those stories on social. It would essentially be facebook.com, twitter.com, and instagram.com /IJMCanada.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    Perfect. Another aspect of content creation that I wanted to cover with you, because you do create so much amazing, wonderful content that has to be done a certain way, is that you must have some kind of brand guidelines, something that you follow.

    Sunali Swaminathan:

    Absolutely. And it’s quite robust. I would say everyone that joins IJM gets one. So, we’re all familiar with the way that we tell stories and what we want to portray to our audience. So, that was probably the first thing that I got when I joined IJM. So I would say I’m the newest employee there. I did get the brand guideline book and it just told us, how do we want to communicate? What’s our voice? What are the values we want to convey? How do we want to tell our story?

    Sunali Swaminathan:

    So for example, we tell stories as it is. So we just tell it as it is, we don’t try to embellish our stories. We try to be very simple in the way that we tell our stories, but not simplistic because the type of work that we deal with is quite complex. So, we ensure that we actually share with our audience what that work looks like in a way that they can understand it. We try to contextualize it in a way that they might understand that story in the best way possible. And we make sure to honor our clients. And that’s something that we know, but what I found really interesting is that our donors see that every single time we send out a story. And so just recently in Vancouver, one of our donors shared a story that he heard from the field. And as he shared the story, he conveyed the exact same storytelling guideline that we follow. He used the exact same guideline in telling that story without us ever having told him about it. And that was pretty impressive.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    That is very impressive. And you have to be very careful with the telling the story, but you want to make sure that you tell the story.

    Sunali Swaminathan:

    Exactly.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:

    Thank you for tuning in. And if you haven’t already done so, I’d like to invite you to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, as well as give us a rating. We love hearing from you and gathering your feedback. Once again, I’m your host, Stephanie Ciccarelli and I hope you can join us for our next Sound Stories podcast.

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    Stephanie Ciccarelli is the Co-Founder and Chief Brand Officer of Voices.com. Classically trained in voice, piano, violin and musical theatre, as well as a respected mentor and industry speaker, Stephanie graduated with a Bachelor of Musical Arts from the Don Wright Faculty of Music at the University of Western Ontario. Possessing a great love for imparting knowledge and empowering others, her podcast Sound Stories serves an audience that wants to achieve excellence in storytelling. Stephanie is found on the PROFIT Magazine W100 list three times (2013, 2015 and 2016), a ranking of Canada's top female entrepreneurs, and is the author of Voice Acting for Dummies®.

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