25 Questions to Get the Story

25 Questions to Get the Story

Vanessa Chase Lockshin details some great suggestions for questions when interviewing to develop stories for your nonprofit. This post appeared in the August 2016 edition of The Storytelling Nonprofit Blog.

Story interviews (or narrative interviews) are almost always necessary in order to tell a rich, interesting story. When you are able to talk to someone directly about a story, you can ask questions the help you gather key facts, details, and emotions. In turn, this provides you with much of the information you need to tell a great story.

For many of the non-profit professionals that I work with, story interviews are one of the most challenging aspects of storytelling. Many people will fret about asking the “right” questions. Others get very nervous talking to someone they don’t know very well. Sometimes, they also worry about what to do if the interview is not going well.

My best advice is to stay present and not let the worries take over. When you are present and engaged in the story interview, that’s when you’ll be post attuned to the details and will be able to ask great questions.

Of course, it can also be helpful to come to the story interview prepared with some questions. You may not follow them exactly or even ask all of the, but they can be helpful guideposts during the interview. I typically like to prepare about 5 questions for interviews.

Today I thought I would share some examples of questions that I’ve asked during story interviews. These are questions that I’ve asked clients, volunteers, program staff, fundraising staff, executive directors, board members, and more. As you read through the questions, you’ll see that some apply to certain groups of people more than others. I hope that they inspire you!

  1. Tell me about what problem this program/service solves?
  2. Can you tell me about a specific person who has used this program?
  3. What was their life like before they began working with you?
  4. Do you remember the first time you met them? What was their emotional state like?
  5. Now that they’ve gone through this program, what’s their life like? What their outlook for the future?
  6. With so many great organizations to support, why should others choose to support ___?
  7. What have you learned about ___?
  8. What was most surprising to you about ___?
  9. Is there are particular moment or memory that stands out for you?
  10. Is there an achievement or contribution that you are most proud of?
  11. Why?
  12. When did you first hear about ___?
  13. What attracted you to this cause?
  14. What inspires you?
  15. What was it like before ___?
  16. Why do you continue to support ___?
  17. How did you know when ____?
  18. What was the biggest challenge you were facing?
  19. What did you do to try to solve this challenge on your own?
  20. What would you say to someone considering ____?
  21. What do you think other people should know about this organization?
  22. How has this changed you?
  23. How did it feel when. . . ?
  24. Is there anything else you would like to share with me?
  25. Is there any question I should I have asked you, but did not?

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