“Data, well-presented, tells a story.” — Anonymous
Communicators are often called upon to build trust quickly among stakeholder groups. One of the most effective approaches is to employ data-driven storytelling.
To do this effectively requires mastery of three key skills:
- Tease out the information or results that will resonate with your stakeholders.
- Package the information in a way that captivates your audience.
- Craft a narrative around the data that inspires the desired change or action from your audience.
In practice, this approach ensures professional communicators and organizations fulfill their ethical obligations to stakeholders — reporting truthful and accurate information and citing credible sources.
At The New Brunswick Medical Education Foundation (NBMEF), we raise funds to provide return-to-service scholarships for medical students from New Brunswick, Canada. This creates a pipeline of future physicians ready to work in a region experiencing a severe health care staffing crisis. Our work ensures communities have enhanced access to primary care, and families can access vital health care services when they need them most.
However, it’s a tough economy for charitable giving and there are many organizations doing great and inspiring work. Many donors want and deserve assurances that their gifts will make a difference.
In the past, NBMEF relied on testimonials from scholarship recipients, donor appreciation stories and anecdotal evidence to garner support. Because there was little in our communications or branding to differentiate the foundation from other initiatives and charities, we lacked public awareness, financial support and recognition from the government.
NBMEF needed to develop a compelling story. The goal was to increase reach, donations and create a platform for our organization to become a credible advocate for improvements to New Brunswick’s health care system.
We began exploring a new narrative — presenting NBMEF as a proven solution to our province’s physician recruitment challenges.
In the following months, we made an effort to identify the key performance indicators that would resonate most with our audiences — how and where our programs were making the most impact.
To begin, we started collecting demographic information from our beneficiaries to understand whether the people we were helping were representative of our region’s larger population. For example:
- Like much of Canada, New Brunswick is experiencing a critical shortage of physicians. There are more than 70,000 New Brunswickers (nearly 10% of the population) waiting for a family doctor or nurse practitioner. In addition, 45% of the province’s family doctors are over the age of 50 and quickly approaching retirement. This is not only an immediate problem, but one that will become exponentially worse as an aging population of doctors exits the labor market.
- Our scholarship program engages future physicians while they are still completing their studies, providing a long-term, sustainable solution to New Brunswick’s recruitment needs. Since inception in 2010, NBMEF has supported over 300 medical students through 540 return-to-service scholarships. So far, this has yielded 48 practicing physicians across New Brunswick, with an additional 250 students and medical residents ready to practice in the province once qualified.
- New Brunswick is a growing province, experiencing both domestic and international immigration. Ensuring the physician population reflects the diversity of our communities will aid in the delivery of quality and culturally competent health care services. In 2023 alone, we awarded over $1 million in tuition relief to students from more than 40 New Brunswick communities. Of these recipients, 44% were from underrepresented groups and 64% were bilingual and planned to practice in both official languages, English and French.
Lastly, we commissioned an economic impact report to quantify the role our programs play in supporting the growth and development of our province. From this data we found that the health care field is a top employer and economic driver in New Brunswick, supporting 61,000 jobs and generating over $1 billion annually in provincial tax revenue.
Not only did the metrics demonstrate success, they positioned NBMEF as one of the most cost-effective, high-yield physician recruitment initiatives in New Brunswick’s history. Once we had this information, we packaged it in a way that was captivating, resonant and inspired action.
A creative agency helped us develop new graphic standards and refine our brand voice. Our website, annual report, pitch decks, proposal templates and other creative assets were redesigned to highlight NBMEF’s results and impact. The Foundation was now able to educate audiences and prospective donors, sharing novel information, statistics and insights into the health sector that were unique to our organization.
A Success Story
Today, data-driven storytelling combined with high-quality visuals helps reinforce our growing credibility. Testimonials and anecdotes are still featured in our communications. Now, however, there is a deliberate balance that allows us to appeal to the hearts and minds of our stakeholders.
This change has yielded significant positive results and we’ve seen enormous interest from all sectors.
- NBMEF tripled its annual fundraising target in 2023, raising over $3.3 million to support New Brunswick’s future physicians. This included a $2.5 million government investment which allowed us to support a record number of scholarships in the 2023-2024 academic year.
- Awareness has grown significantly. Our website and social media pages experienced three and four-digit percent increases in reach and content engagement. The foundation experienced more earned media coverage in 2023 than in the previous three years combined. Further, scholarship applications rose 58% year over year.
- NBMEF has been afforded opportunities to participate in government and health care sector consultations, conferences and speaker series. We are leveraging this platform to help bridge the gap between education and employment for the physicians we support.
Focusing on the data requires communicators to be accountable to stakeholders. It allows us to identify patterns and be agile. Organizations across every sector can reap the benefits of an evidence-based communication model — but data alone is not enough to make a difference.
The communicator’s role is essential to curating the figures and statistics that will resonate with an audience or stakeholder group. Organizational storytelling has the power to create alignment, emotional investment and trust. When organizations lead with facts, transparency and candor, it allows communicators to truly embody the IABC Code of Ethics and operate with the utmost integrity.
Alyssa long joined The New Brunswick Medical Education Foundation in 2022 as executive director. There, she champions the foundation’s unique mission to enhance access to primary care by recruiting and retaining the province’s future physicians. She brings seven years of corporate communications, stakeholder engagement and leadership experience to the role.
Long is an organizational storyteller and empathy advocate. She holds a Bachelor of Science in biology, Master of Arts in communication studies and her Communication Management Professional (CMP) certification from the Global Communication Certification Council (GCCC).