Storytelling Through Design: HPC Fellow, Helen Kline, SOS Children’s Villages USA

Helen Kline is a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow working with SOS Children’s Villages USA. At SOS, Helen had the opportunity to be a storyteller, furthering SOS’s mission and values. Read on to learn about her placement as a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow.

Four months ago, I came across the Hilton Prize Coalition Content and Storytelling Fellowship at SOS Children’s Villages USA. The word “Storytelling” stood out to me. I remember thinking it was probably a buzzword, and in that case, it had the desired effect: My mind raced to possible roles I’d have, regardless of whether or not they were actually in the description. I like to write in my spare time and have presented my writing at conferences, but I never considered storytelling as a career. It always felt more like a well-loved hobby, but this job title made me consider that maybe it could be both. SOS Children’s Villages sounded like a place where I could gain fundraising experience, allowing me to stay in the nonprofit world I’d always loved. It seemed comfortable yet exciting, so I hit “send” on my application and anxiously awaited a response.

Luckily, about a month later, I interviewed with my future supervisors. I felt it went well and was even more optimistic when they asked for writing samples. They noticed a short story listed on my resume and asked me to send it along. I was a bit confused. “Sure, but um don’t you want something more… professional? I could send a research blog post instead.”

They said I could email that too, but still wanted the short story included. Perhaps “storytelling” was less of a buzzword than I initially thought.

Starting out, the work didn’t feel quite as intricately connected as the designs and projects I’d imagined. They assigned a report on this here and donor touchpoint there, but as time progressed, I learned more about my audience and SOS Children’s Villages as a whole. I fell into a rhythm. I learned what would resonate with my supervisors. I designed each project with a fresh but consistent look and realized each helped tell a new story to SOS’s audience. 

SOS Children’s Villages USA is a part of an incredible global nonprofit but has its own goals, audience, and functions, and its brand materials needed to reflect this. My design and writing told donors and supporters SOS’s unique story. Designing, redesigning, and editing reports or donor touchpoints was less about the projects themselves and more about communicating the larger idea that the organization is growing and adapting to its audiences, while also remaining recognizable and identifiable, because if SOS cannot relate to its audiences, then it cannot garner the support needed to assist children and families globally. As a result, I had the opportunity to be a storyteller and reach audiences by incorporating my style into the brand, engaging donors, and contributing to furthering SOS’s mission and values.

Framing my fellowship as a storytelling process not only improved my skills, but also gave me a better sense of what I wanted for my career. In the end, I learned to be a more cohesive designer and see my work in a new way. This journey also pushed me to consider new professions. I am looking into multimedia journalism and other positions that will allow me to craft stories the way this fellowship allowed me to, and without the amazing teams at SOS Children’s Villages USA, I don’t think I would have learned so much about myself,  the impact design can have on donor engagement, or its role in storytelling. Therefore, I am incredibly thankful to the Hilton Prize Coalition and SOS for this opportunity, and I look forward to applying everything I’ve learned in my next position.

About the Hilton Prize Coalition

The  Hilton Prize Coalition  is an independent alliance of the winners of the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize, working together to achieve collective impact. Through three signature programs—the  Fellows Program, the  Collaborative Models Program  and the  Storytelling Program—the Coalition leverages the resources, talents and expertise of each of its members to innovate and establish best practices that can be shared with the global NGO and donor communities. Working in more than 170 countries, the Coalition is governed by a board comprised of the leaders of the Prize-winning organizations led by an Executive Committee and a Secretariat,  Global Impact.

To learn more about the Hilton Prize Coalition, visit  prizecoalition.charity.org, or contactprizecoalition@charity.org. Follow  the Hilton Prize Coalition on  Twitter and LinkedIn, and “Like” us on Facebook.

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