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Madeline Pillow – Telling the Stories of Our Organizations

Madeline Pillow

  Madeline Pillow


When Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced an algorithm change to the social medium’s platform in mid-January 2018, every business, brand, nonprofit, and religious institution wondered what that meant for them.

In my communications role with the United Methodist Church, I help the more than 1,100 United Methodist churches in the Virginia Conference through crisis situations, questions about communication tactics, and telling the stories of local churches within the conference. I also offer training sessions about topics such as social media.

The week following the January Facebook algorithm announcement, I led a social media training session. I knew I would face a room full of church administrators, volunteers, and clergy, wondering what this algorithm change would mean for them.

One thread that any organization can add in moving forward from Facebook’s change, and with any social media platform or in-person assembly, is learning how to tell a story. Early societies were built on the oral tradition of storytelling. Storytelling brought families together, helped communities socialize, and created a collective understanding, history, and identity.

How well do our organizations tell our stories? We might have to learn how. Whenever I have a question about how to do something, I look around to see who is doing that activity well.

So who is weaving a good story? My mind instantly goes to shoe manufacturer TOMS. Founder Blake Mycoskie started the company in 2006, after befriending children in Argentina and realizing that they had no shoes to protect their feet. When someone purchases shoes from TOMS, the company matches that purchase with a pair of shoes for a child in need. Over 60 million pairs of shoes have now been given to children in need in over 70 countries. The company has since started an eyewear line and has created larger movements such as One Day Without Shoes to raise awareness for global issues.

The company gives value to their customers by building upon their initial story through new ventures. It’s a narrative that customers can instantly engage in, and that makes them feel something, gives them steps for further engagement, and creates a sense of community. Listeners to the story become customers who can affect persons around the world by partnering with TOMS’ efforts for greater impact.

Although Facebook’s algorithm is changing, nothing has really changed. Technology is constantly changing the way we communicate and how we want to receive communication. Social media has and will always require constant vigilance and training.

Nonprofits and religious institutions have an advantage in changing climates. There are good stories all around to share. We just have to know how to tell the story in a way that engages our audience, makes them feel something, provides action steps, and brings people value.

I find local churches can be the biggest offenders. United Methodist churches are built on a foundation of mission and are often doing mission work in local communities, but they often forget to share that news outside of the church congregation.

Zuckerberg said he seeks to create more meaningful interactions for Facebook users through the algorithm changes. I think we can expect this tone to eventually affect our other social media, as well.

The change prompts us to create more engaging posts, but also to be more engaging with respective audiences on social media. Look around in your community, either physically or online. Who is telling a good story? What stories can your organization share? How can you tell your narrative in such a way to help people act on it?

Madeline Pillow is the Director of Communications for the Virginia Conference of The United Methodist Church, as well as editor of the conference monthly magazine, The Advocate. A lover of reading and writing, Pillow graduated from American University in Washington, D.C with a Master’s degree in Creative Writing (MFA) in 2015. MadelinePillow@vaumc.org

This article is reprinted from Issue #11 of Nonprofit Performance Magazine. Subscribe today so that you won’t miss other actionable articles that will help you run your nonprofit organization with less pain and more gain!

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