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Authentic Storytelling and the Nonprofit Sector

A_Banner_HomepageSince 2003, the Catalogue has relied on the art of storytelling to raise awareness about the work of our 350+ nonprofits. Whether through our print Catalogue, website, or events, we use storytelling to bring to life each charity’s programs, and impact. Spreading the word about our charities work is central to our mission, and we’re always looking for new and innovative ways to do this.

In a recent blog post, our friends at Meridian Hill Pictures tackled the topic of authenticity in storytelling, and how this topic was reflected in their feature film, CITY OF TREES. The film follows the stories of trainees and staff at Washington Parks and People (’14-’15) as they navigate the “inspiring but messy world of job training, and the roadblocks change makers face in urban communities everyday.” In conjunction with the film, Meridian Hill Pictures is launching a regular dialogue series titled Authentic Storytelling Moves People, in which they hope to bring together nonprofit leaders, independent filmmakers, and community members to talk openly about how they can all embrace more authentic storytelling to strengthen our community. Below is an excerpt from their blog:

“Whether in narrative or documentary, moving or still pictures, newspapers or tweets, we’re interested in exploring ways that society can elevate and reward authenticity, so that honest conversations are not withheld from the public sphere out of fear of losing funding, donations, support, or trust. We do not see authenticity as a sign of weakness rather, it requires courage. What if funders asked their grantees to demonstrate authenticity alongside impact? What if the public demanded authenticity as a form of accountability from public and private institutions? What if we all had the courage to create and tell more authentic stories?

In our first feature film, CITY OF TREES, we’ve attempted to embrace these values through an honest, character-driven story that challenges audiences to think deeply about the triumphs and struggles in making a long-term social impact within a non-profit organization… CITY OF TREES thrusts viewers into the inspiring but messy world of job training and the roadblocks changemakers face in urban communities everyday. Telling this kind of story required all parties — filmmakers, participants, funders, audiences — to embrace a certain unpredictability, lack of control, and reality that the ‘message’ would never be as perfectly conveyed through a people-centered story as through a tightly-crafted grant report, speech, tweet or fundraising video. Our hope has been that this kind of people-centered, reflective storytelling helps everyone to develop a more nuanced understanding of the issues, a meaningful connection to the stakeholders as individual people and not statistics, and a more-informed investment in the potential of possible solutions.”

Read the full blog post here.

Interested in checking out City of Trees? Join Meridian Hill Pictures at the DC Environmental Film Festival for the premiere of CITY OF TREES (or check the CITY OF TREES website for other festival screenings).


In anticipation of the screening, we caught up with Lance Kramer, Executive Director at Meridian Hill Pictures, to learn more about how the film came to fruition, and the potential it has to impact the nonprofit sector.

What conversation started Meridian Hill Picture’s involvement with Washington Parks and People?

Lance: In building a relationship, particularly one between a filmmaker and a subject, there are so many conversations that play a role…. more that I can count. The evolution of our relationship started when we first moved into the Josephine Butler Parks Center, continued through visiting the Corps members’ work site at the North Columbia Heights Green, a participatory video training we facilitated with the Corps members, then the bulk of the filming with all of the participants to follow the story of the grant. We realized that there was something really interesting and complex going on in both the spaces where the Corps was working, in the lives on the people and the organization.

What role do you see the film playing in the nonprofit space?

Lance: I think there’s a lot of interest, concern and confusion about embracing storytelling in the nonprofit community. What is storytelling and what does it mean for a nonprofit? There isn’t just one right answer. I hope that one outcome of the people in the film placing their trust in us and allowing themselves to be vulnerable, is to help others understand how hard change can be and allow others in the field to take a deep breath and feel ok with sharing the struggles that we all face. I hope others see that storytelling can be a powerful place to have a meaningful dialogue around successes and challenges, and that honesty can have a positive impact on the organizations serving our community. I hope the film shows that the march towards truth requires people to have trust in each other, the storytellers, and in the potential of honest stories to move people.

cityoftrees2If you could have one group of people see the film and talk about it, who would that be?

Lance: Only one group? I think nonprofit funders are an important audience for this film because they have the power to change the mechanics of how programs can impact our communities. We hope this film can help people build stronger relationships and understanding between people at the top, the staffs who design and implement programs, and the community members who are most closely impacted by programs. We can only benefit by strengthening communication and empathy for the struggles and needs all of these stakeholders face.

If every person who sees the film can walk away asking themselves one question, what should that question be?

Lance: Where do I fit in? This film isn’t about “other” people- it deals with issues that affect all of us. I hope people watching the film take a moment to look inward, to see that we are all connected and part of a system. Through the film and this kind of storytelling, maybe, it can help people think about where they fit into that system, and what each one of us can be doing or thinking differently in order to increase positive outcomes in our communities.

Check out the CITY OF TREES this week at the DC Environmental Film Festival (or visit the CITY OF TREES website for other festival screenings)!

#WhatsUpWednesday 12.09.15

Happy #WhatsUpWednesday!

This week, Operation Second Chance is getting ready for the most FUN run/walk this December, the Sergeant’s Fitness Concepts Jolly Fat Mans Run!! Check them out in this clip from Let’s Talk Live!








If you haven’t already, be sure to check out this week’s “7 Questions” post from Legal Counsel for the Elderly. 2015 marks the 40th anniversary of Legal Counsel for the Elderly. Today, they continue to provide free legal and social services to DC’s most vulnerable seniors. Through the eyes of four of its clients, click below to see how LCE makes a difference in the lives of seniors:



#WhatsUpWednesday 10.7.2015

Happy “What’s Up Wednesday!” Looking for a new podcast to add to your queue? This week’s #whatsupwednesday feature has a suggestion for you. Also featured, Catalogue nonprofits supporting one another through wonderful collaborations. Read on and…Happy Wednesday!

This week, DC SCORES introduced six new team members on its podcast! Get to know soccer coordinators Breele Hunter, Emily Shinogle, and Travis Worra (a goalie for D.C. United); soccer program manager Chris Hudler; Athletic Director Greg James; and writing coordinator Mira Smith as they begin their time at DC SCORES.



Montgomery Countryside Alliance
This week, Montgomery Countryside Alliance connected local Crossroads Market farmers to acreage through Land Link Montgomery. Crossroads Market is part of Crossroads Community Food Network (also a Catalogue nonprofit!).


#WhatsUpWednesday 09.16.15

Happy Wednesday! The Catalogue kicked off our week by welcoming our brand new class of 2015-2016 “best of the best” small nonprofits across Greater Washington. We shared with them the best ways to leverage their Catalogue partnership, and introduced them to some of our friends, such as Meridian Hill Pictures, and fellow Catalogue nonprofits, such as DC SCORES (last year’s Giving Tuesday winner). Check out the video below to see what else our network was up to this week:

Operation Second Chance (New ’15-’16 Catalogue partner!)
Today was a recovery day for atOperation Second Chance after sending out 32 care packages to our Heroes overseas yesterday!

2Seeds Network
The Magoma Project students collected 54 eggs today from their school chicken coop! These eggs will be sold locally to finance the primary school’s meals program.

We kicked off both our LearnServe Fellows and Incubator programs this week! The LearnServe Fellows Program brings together high school students from across the Washington, DC, area to learn how to bring sustainable social change to their communities. To learn more about these programs, visit this page.

Our Daily Bread
“It really helps you know how much you are spending,” said an attendee of our Free Financial Counseling Clinic at UCM of Alexandria last Wednesday. The volunteer Financial Planners and intake assistants from ODB are gearing up for the next clinic with Western Fairfax Christian Ministries in Chantilly on 9/28. Visit ODB’s Financial Literacy page to get a handle on your finances, or get involved in helping others!

Byte Back
ByteBack has just launched a new website at! They’re proud to introduce this user-friendly site for students, community members, alumni, volunteers, supporters, and partners. Find information easily, check out newly added resources, and see how ByteBack programs are transforming students’ lives. ByteBack is putting tech within reach for underserved DC residents with new features, including: Student success stories, resources in English and Spanish for students and community to learn and gain career opportunities, and easier ways for supporters to get involved and help change lives. Click around the new site to learn, volunteer, give, or hire!

ThanksUSA (New ’15-’16 Catalogue partner!)
This week, when you buy a ticket to see the Washington Nationals, ThanksUSA receives $5 from every discounted ticket sold when you enter the code “ThanksUSA”! This Friday, they’ll receive the Spirit award on the field. It will be at 6:40, before the game start time of 7pm — and they’ll also show their new PSA!

#WhatsUpWednesday 07.29.15

This week, we’re excited to highlight two of our nonprofits, 2Seeds Network and The Reading Connection! Read on to find out “what’s up” at these organizations this week, and how you can get involved to support them.

2Seeds Network
This week, 2Seeds said goodbye to one of its staff members, Cam Kemp. Thanks for all your hard work!


Fun fact: Did you know that for just $100, you can provide business training to a Tanzanian farmer?This invaluable training helps farmers become creative and productive agricultural entrepreneurs locating new markets, forming cooperatives, finding alternative farming opportunities, and generating an income for the farmers’ families. Click on the image above to find out more!

The Reading Connection
The Reading Connection’s summer reading program, We are Readers, is in full blossom. This week, Alexandria Police Officers read with kids at ARHA.


Fun Fact: Did you know that for just $100, you can provide a parent workshop to help adults increase their confidence about reading to their children? Click on the image above to donate!

#WhatsUpWednesday 07.22.15

Which Catalogue charity has a freshly-painted play room, thanks to local volunteers? Which one took its summer academy students to one of the city’s top museums, or shared a record-breaking produce bounty with local seniors? And finally, which Catalogue charity saw female small business owners in Tanzania set a monthly profit record? Find out below in this weeks #whatsupwednesday!

Bethany House of Northern Virginia
This week, Bethany House had a volunteer team from TheTransit DC who came and painted a play room at one of their shelters. Wow – it looks great with the new bright red and yellow walls!

Higher Achievement
Field trips happen every Friday at Higher Achievement’s Summer Academy! The photo in this week’s slideshow is from Higher Achievement’s recent visit to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, thanks to partner Mayer Brown.

Iona Senior Services
This season has been record-breaking for our Farm to Table program, which brings fresh produce from local markets to older adults in our Active Wellness Program at St. Alban’s — for free! We’ve had 2,275 lbs so far this season (and counting)! Special thanks to our partners New Morning Farm, FRESHFARM Markets (’13-’14 Catalogue charity!), DC Greens (’14-’15 Catalogue charity), and Licking Creek Bend Farm.

2Seeds Network
Mama Asha from Tabora Project calculated monthly profits this week in the group’s newly built storage building. The group of women cooks and sells packaged foods around Tanzania, and June was their highest monthly profit to date!

#WhatsUpWednesday 07.15.15

After a brief summer hiatus, #WhatsUpWednesday is back, refreshed, and excited to share “what’s up” at Catalogue charities this week! Take a look at photos in the video below, and be sure to check out our charities’ Catalogue pages to learn how you can donate or volunteer.

Global Kids
Global Kids has been having an incredible summer. Global Kids Summer Institute visited the South African Embassy. The youth met with a South African diplomat with whom they discussed racial justice issues in their local communities and in South Africa. In August, many of these students will be traveling to South Africa with Global Kids-DC through a generous grant from the DC Department of Employment Services.

2Seeds Network
Mzee Mcharo from Kwakiliga Project and Mama Tatu from Bombo Majimoto Project met this week to calculate business profits and share ideas with Jeremy, the Kwakiliga Project Coordinator.

Crossroads Community Food Network
Wednesday was market day at Crossroads Farmers Market, operated by the Crossroads Community Food Network! Today was salsa day at market – they served up free samples of summer peach salsa while enjoying salsa music. Market is open each Wednesday from 11-3 until November.

Bethany House of Northern Virginia
Bethany House of Northern Virginia, Inc. is participating in Macy’s Shop For A Cause on August 29th. You can purchase a shopping pass good for 25% on almost everything including sale items. Contact Brad Womble, 703-658-9500 for more information!

Higher Achievement
Summer Academy is underway at Higher Achievement! Six weeks of full school days. Core subjects and electives Monday – Thursday and fun/interactive field trips every Friday!

The Reading Connection
At The Reading Connection, BB&T Lighthouse Project volunteers donated their time to participate in monthly Book Club mailing. They mailed out new, beautiful kids books to 210 at-risk families who are enrolled in Book Club program through home visiting agencies. BB&T Lighthouse Project also made a $1,800 donation to the Book Club.

Calvary Women’s Services
Calvary has a new garden area, and women are already enjoying produce that they’ve grown!

#WhatsUpWednesday 06.10.15

In this week’s edition of #WhatsUpWednesday, we have volunteer opportunities to uplift young girls, a recipe that is both delicious and nutritious, and snapshots of our nonprofits in action: celebrating the joy of reading in schools, ensuring the safety and health of those living on the street, and showing off agricultural achievements!videoimage Girls on the Run – DC
Girls on the Run – DC relies on amazing volunteer coaches to help our teams of 8-15 girls recognize their inner strength! Apply today to be a GOTR-DC Fall 2015 coach!

Georgetown Ministry Center
Gunther and Dr. Crosland from Unity Health Care Inc. were doing street outreach and bringing healthcare to people who live on the street. Whether it’s 10 degrees or 100 degrees, they are out there making sure people are okay!

Reading Partners DC
Reading Partners celebrated reading and the end of the school year, and took a great picture from Wheatley Education Campus (see that photo in the video above!).

Crossroads Community Food Network
The Crossroads Community Food Network is serving up Swiss Chard Wraps at the Crossroads Farmers Market’s weekly nutrition education lesson, in partnership with University of Maryland Extension! Want the recipe? Get it here: Come visit the market each Wednesday from 11-3 in Takoma Park for healthy produce, tasty lunch offerings, great music, activities for kids, nutrition education and more!

2Seeds Network
Mama Tatu from the Bombo Majimoto Project proudly showed Anderson from the Masoko Project the group’s greenhouse and newly planted garlic!

#WhatsUpWednesday 05.06.15

This week, Catalogue nonprofits delivered eggs to help with income security, shared the value of local green spaces, helped high-schoolers learn about sustainable building (through a cool micro house!), and won over $300k in grants to support literacy! Read on for details — and don’t forget to click the links to learn how you can support these great organizations.

2Seeds Network
Today, 2Seeds delivered eggs from Kwakiliga Project to shops and buyers in Dar es Salaam, where their partners receive almost 2x more for a tray of eggs than they do in their regional market!

Washington Parks & People
Washington Parks & People had an amazing day out in Marvin Gaye and Kenilworth Parks on Saturday. Thanks so much to everyone who came out and made the Community Health Walk a success! Want to join in with your support? On June 6th is their annual Ridge Walk for Parks. So save the date, and come join for another adventure!

Reach, Inc.
Reach Incorporated won major recognition – and major cash – this week: On Wednesday, the National Book Foundation announced that Reach won a $10,000 Innovations in Reading Prize. In addition to that honor, Reach also won a $300,000 three-year grant from the Norman R. and Ruth Rales Foundation, a charitable organization in Washington. Congratulations to Reach, Inc! Read more in the Washington Post article here.

DC Students Construction Trades Foundation
Each Wednesday through the end of the current semester, high school CTE students in the Academy of Construction and Design are learning about energy-efficient design and sustainable building as they construct a 160 sq. ft. micro house in Northeast Washington. This exciting project is part of their Build a House – Build a Future construction education program. Previously, Academy of Construction and Design students helped build a nearly 2,000 sq. ft. single-family house in Northwest Washington. All programs are designed to give students a fast start toward jobs, college and careers.