Why You Need to Become Your Own Historian

Corporate employee selfie

If you’ve ever run short on facts to persuade a potential investor, or found gaps in your organization’s timeline, you’ve felt the pain of working without a historian. When telling your story, you should never be without all the details you need to paint a powerful picture of the organization you care about.

So if the map to your factual treasure has gone missing in your own organization, then today is the day to become your own historian. Let’s look at why and how to do that.

What may seem unforgettable today can easily be lost to you forever—unless someone becomes a historian.

Life Without a Historian

Three events hammered home to me what people can lose when they don’t have a historian.

First, I recently unearthed a heavy black-paper photo album of my father’s family. One or two words noted on a few photo margins told me little about them. I could piece together some of the stories. But now that Dad’s memory isn’t all it used to be, the rest is lost.

Next, the director of a nonprofit asked me to write his organization’s newsletter. Then he emailed me a slew of unlabeled photos. I had to dig like an investigative journalist to find out the who, what, why, when and how of those pictures that carried meaning for his ministry.

Finally, another nonprofit I serve, preparing for a fundraiser banquet, tasked me with creating a presentation chronicling the group’s 25-year history. I had three days to rummage through faded newspaper clippings, old board meeting minutes, and a puzzling collection of untitled digital photos. From that jumble I was to magically construct a timeline that communicated the “why” and “how” of the organization.

A historian can preserve not just what happened to whom when, but the why and how behind that story.

How to Think Like a Historian

The three cases above illustrate why you need a historian. Now, hear me. I don’t necessarily mean you need a staffer with that title. But you—really, everyone in your organization—can learn to think like a historian. You can develop habits that will make recording and retelling your story easier and more powerful in the future.

Here’s how.

Take Pictures

  • Designate an event photographer. When you know an event is coming, pick someone whose sole duty will be taking photos. Provide them an advance list of shots you definitely want, along with a program to help them strategize where to be when.
  • Make a habit of documenting. Of course, photograph the big milestones. But “don’t despise the day of small things.” Today’s ordinary may turn out to be tomorrow’s breakthrough moment.

Save Photos Safely with Meaningful Titles

  • Save photos to the cloud or a long-term storage device (with backup). Dropbox, for example, can be used to archive photos and allow your team to add comments.
  • Give photos informative names. Change “IMG4827” to “Abby Jones with pres” when saving photo files. Such data is a gift to your future chronicler.

Create an Index

  • Write a one-sentence story for each photo and save it in an index. Note the photo name and file location. If it helps, make yourself a template sentence to make sure nothing gets overlooked:

“__[Who]__ did __[What]__ __[How]__ on __[When]__ at __[Where]__ because __[Why]__”

  • Store this index document along with the photos.

Document in Writing

  • Write down what happened. What seems unforgettable today can fade with time and employee turnover. Write it down. File stories in meaningfully-titled folders. Back up digital files.
  • Save testimonials. Record what your grateful client said about you, or the reason an investor gave for putting their money behind you. Keep these testimonials in a labeled folder.

Save external references

  • Collect newspaper clippings, flyers, and so forth whenever you are mentioned. Digitize them.
  • File online feature articles, others’ pictures and comments shared on social media, etc.

A historian develops habits of recording and organizing information for easy future use.

How Historian Habits Help You

When you and your team form these historian habits, you’ll gain at least three valuable benefits:

  1. You’ll have plenty of fleshed-out content for your marketing materials, fundraising appeals, business proposals, website content, social media posts, etc.
  2. Being able to tell a clear story to new employees or volunteers helps them learn the organization’s culture, vision, and mission—and how and why those came to be.
  3. Reviewing your organization’s past trajectory may help you plot a successful course into the future.

A historian supplies content for your marketing, training, and planning efforts.

Don’t you think it’s time you became a better historian today?

As you move forward documenting your organization’s story, keep in mind that a professional writer can help you get your story told well.

Why not download my free guide, Hiring a Writer, today? And while you’re at it, sign up for my free e-newsletter so you won’t miss future ideas to help you communicate with the world.

Start working with Karen today

Today could be the day your load gets lighter.
Ask Karen Ingle to make that happen.

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