The Seder’s Secrets for Storytelling that Any Nonprofit Can Use
The Seder’s Secrets for Storytelling Any Nonprofit Can Use

The Seder’s Secrets for Storytelling that Any Nonprofit Can Use

05/01/2024 by Andrew Fretwell
How the Passover Seder is instructive to sharing your nonprofit’s story.

Each year I gather with my family to retell the story of the Passover holiday. It’s rich with wisdom, history, important lessons, and provides a framework for honoring this special time.  This last week, as my family settled around the Passover table, it struck me how the structure of this beautiful ritual could serve as inspiration for the incredible nonprofits we work with who seek to inspire and further their mission through the art of storytelling.  

As a company, Arkus is focused on creating an inclusive and equitable organization for all stakeholders, including our employees, our partners, and our clients. Arkies come from a wide variety of backgrounds and celebrate a multitude of different holidays. I am appreciative of such a supportive corporate culture that supports my passion for technology and the insights I gain from my own personal faith and community.  

For the last 3200 years, Jews have celebrated Passover by hosting an educational dinner, also known as a seder, to retell the story of their remarkable exit from Egypt. Gathering friends and families to eat a celebratory meal and retell the story of the Exodus from slavery in Egypt is the most widely practiced holiday ritual on the Jewish calendar, surpassing lighting a menorah on Hannukah, and going to Synagogue on Yom Kippur (the Jewish day of atonement, and the holiest day on the Jewish calendar).

So with that in mind, here are four ingredients of the seder that I think make it such an excellent template for storytelling.

Iterate instead of Reinventing the Wheel

A critical step in preparing for a seder is choosing a script or program to follow, either by selecting one complete existing script, pulling together favorite elements from others, or creating something from scratch. Also known as Haggadah, this script is akin to open-source code available to all to modify, tweak, and adjust to their heart’s delight. What is most important is that creating the script is an opportunity to iterate on work that has been done over the last three thousand years to create a personal and meaningful experience.

When you tap into your organization’s data to tell your story, you should similarly benefit from the opportunity to customize your own script. Salesforce provides pre-configured components, reports, and dashboards widely used by nonprofits, and the ability to customize to your heart’s delight. You also are part of a 50,000-organization-wide nonprofit community from which to crowdsource. At Arkus, we have worked with over 700 nonprofits across nearly 2500 projects - so if you have an idea we have probably already done it at least once or twice. Regardless of where your organization is on your data journey, Salesforce can meet you where you are either with robust pre-configurations and always maximal flexibility and customizability.

Meet your Audience in their Comfort Zone

A Passover Seder does not happen at a synagogue nor is it required to be led by a rabbi; it happens in someone’s own dining room and is led by whoever wants to. This puts the entire experience into a familiar space for families and becomes instantly integrated into their lives. No travel necessary. 

Does your nonprofit bring your story to your audience where they are? If smartphones are where people spend their time, are you making it easy and accessible for them to find your story there? Most Gen Zers probably think anything that is not viewable within a smartphone app is akin to using a fax machine. Older constituents still may heavily use email and web browsers to manage their communications, and some people just really like getting a meaningful piece of snail mail. Salesforce tools included in, and that connect to, Salesforce’s Nonprofit CRM solutions can solve this so you can account for everyone’s comfort zone and coordinate across this diverse communications landscape.

Encourage Interaction

One of the staple components of the seder is the retelling of an anecdote about a group of rabbis who once started a debate about the Passover story that got so heated that at one point one of them looked up and noticed the sun was rising. They had debated for the entire night!

It’s an odd anecdote, especially at the outset of the Seder. What’s it doing there? This holiday does not merely invite the recitation of a story but invites poking holes, debating, and finding deeper meaning from wrestling with that story. This process is what makes it personally meaningful and prevents the values of the Passover story from going stale.

When you share your story with your constituents, how do you enable respectful, constructive interaction with the underlying data points? Many organizations have historically struggled to identify how to create a space where they host a respectful conversation at scale, versus broadcasting a unidirectional message. When you are limited to read-only websites, mailers, and “batch and blast” emails you don’t have many options that scale. 

However, marketing solutions, the ability to create a user login and portal, and inviting and exciting data visualization tools like Tableau have opened brand new avenues for nonprofits over the last 5-10 years. Your organization now does have the ability to not merely hand down a story but also provide a safe space for your constituents to dive into and wrestle around with data to find personally meaningful insights.

Bring Everyone to the Table

The Jewish community is a diverse population, spanning millennia, and continents.  Each subsegment has their own unique traditions, rituals, cuisine, interpretations, and great holidays, that simultaneously meet at our collective table to celebrate our common bonds and our amazing diversity. Traditions from 3,000 years ago are mixed in with innovations of today and pay homage to musical, artistic, and cultural traditions from Eastern Europe to India. Texts may be translated to and from Hebrew, Aramaic, Yiddish, Farsi, English, Spanish, and many, many more languages. The food covers cuisines just as far-reaching. This way, everyone has a seat at the table and we benefit from our collective experience.

If your nonprofit draws anecdotal and quantitative data from a myriad of sources — the more you harmonize across those sources to create your own data mosaic for your organization, the more compelling and interesting your story becomes. Salesforce understands this and provides tools like Mulesoft, Heroku, and most recently Data Cloud to move forward the needle on doing exactly that.

These were a few of the storytelling mechanisms that I noticed as I enjoyed my family’s seders this year. I also invite you to read what I wrote about my learning connected to the holidays of Hannukah and Shauvot. If you have some that you would like to share, related to this holiday or others you celebrate, including any other storytelling traditions or rituals that relate to nonprofit success, let me know on Linkedin or via our website.