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Extension Storytelling

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Stories come in many shapes, sizes and forms, depending on the context. A success story, web post, news release or photo essay might deliver similar messaging in different ways and distinct packaging, for example.

Rather than a standard dictionary definition, an Extension story can be identified by key elements that comprise it. Subject matter, topic, tone, purpose.

Extension stories are intentional, strategic and rooted in our mission to grow North Carolina.

So how can we ensure that our stories always convey a common identity regardless of format or programming area? Start with the guidelines, tools and examples below!



“Stories and storytelling are an essential element of what it means to be human… Stories help us make sense of the world, and pass on universal lessons and wisdom.”

– Kate Forsyth, author and storyteller

What do stories mean to Extension? Through stories, we can bring life to data, build emotional connections between our organization and our audiences, and reinforce the message that Extension matters and is growing a more prosperous state.

Watch an effective Extension story example:

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    • Story told to bring life to an organizational value and forge a connection between an organization and its audience
    • Story that takes data or information and gives it a personality while making it relatable
    • The purpose of the story is to give meaning to the brand and leave the reader with the belief that “Extension improves my life”
    • A story wherein core values are in sync so people believe in the brand’s promise

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Start With the WHY

Remember that Extension stories are always intentional and rooted in our mission to grow North Carolina.

Before writing a word, start by identifying your primary goal – what do you want to accomplish? What should happen as a result?

Is your outreach meant to inform, educate, entertain, influence, report, etc.? Moving forward, consider if something you’re doing helps or hinders your goal – a clear purpose is an invaluable guide.

Extension Story Development

We’ve created a story development worksheet to help you prioritize topics and frame your stories in a way that grows our collective Extension brand. A checklist is also available for a quick review of topics or stories.

Story development worksheet for N.C. Cooperative Extension

Click image to view or download Extension Story Development Worksheet

Steps to Develop an Extension Story

Following is an outline of the steps involved in creating an Extension story. Each phase entails clear steps to guide you, from identifying story topics through measuring your outreach results.

I. DEFINE | A well-defined topic

  • Confirm the story topic
    • Does the topic / issue clearly demonstrate how Extension is growing our state or improving the lives of North Carolinians?
      • If not, rethink the topic or approach it from another angle
    • Can you succinctly articulate the topic / issue you are working to address?
    • Are you sure it’s relevant, timely or of interest to North Carolinians?
    • Do we have a practical, research-based solution or information to offer?
  • Identify your audience
    • Who needs to know about this in order to reach your goal? Who is affected by this topic or issue (why should they care)?
    • Keep them in mind as you’re developing the piece so you’re speaking to them specifically

II. DEVELOP | A simple, clear narrative

    • Draft and filter the story through our Extension Story Worksheet and Checklist
      • Which traits from the list does the topic / issue best express?
    • Introduce the characters and setting (time and place)
      • Who are the qualified Extension experts / programs involved? What about clients or partners?
      • How are they addressing the topic / issue or involved with it? What are the implications for the future?
    • Simply state the challenge
      • What conflict or issue are we helping to resolve?
      • What can/are we doing to address the issue?
      • What was the turning point or the thing that really made a difference?
    • Highlight the benefits and outcomes / impacts
      • How can or will this topic affect the target audience(s)? Why should they care?
      • How did it help the main character(s)?
      • How can it help others going forward (what’s the long-term impact)? What insights were gained?

Q: When should an Extension story be developed?
A: As you’re planning your efforts (or as events unfold)!

III. DELIVER | A plan to publicize impacts

    • Select relevant communication channels
      • *Where does your target audience go for information (social media, newspaper, radio, TV, community groups, etc.)?
      • What format do these channels require (word count, style, etc.)?
      • Where should this story be posted internally? (Newsletters? Reporting systems?)

*Note the available metrics for channels you utilize and plan to compile results after distribution.

IV. MEASURE | A plan to measure success
This step refers to measuring the reach of your story, not to be confused with the actual outcomes and impacts around which you develop the story.

  • Compile available data / metrics (based on where you distributed your story)
    • Most social media channels provide user analytics (views, likes, shares)
    • Newsletters provide subscriber figures and open / click rates
    • Media outlets often include relevant figures (subscribers, viewers, impressions, etc.) in their advertising kits on their websites
  • Determine your metrics for success in advance (i.e. while planning your program)
    • Put into place the means to capture these metrics before the program, event, story, etc. occurs
    • For example, if it is a web-based goal, make sure you have Google Analytics enabled
Flow chart showing steps to develop a N.C. Cooperative Extension story

Extension Story Development Chart (click image to view or download)

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Delivering Meaningful Impacts

Sharing quantitative data is important, but numbers alone often tell an incomplete story and may not connect with the audience. Communicating the results of Extension’s efforts via stories provides valuable context and makes our work more relatable and relevant.

In addition to sharing the immediate outcomes of our efforts, Extension stories should illustrate meaningful impacts.

But what are the differences between outcomes and impacts? And why should we focus on impacts?

Outcomes vs. Impacts (PDF)

Chart illustrating the differences between outcomes and impacts as they related to story development

Click image to view or download handout

Conveying short/medium-term outcomes in your stories is important (e.g. number of workshop attendees or people buying from farmers markets), but it does not reflect long-term value and opportunity.

Strive to demonstrate significant long-term impacts as well, which illustrate meaningful change or the potential for such change (e.g. economic growth, reductions in obesity or improvements in environmental conditions).

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Effective Extension Story Examples

Discover Your Way at Betsy-Jeff Penn 4-H Camp

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Have a story idea or local news that may be relevant to a broader audience? We can help highlight how your program or local center transforms societal challenges into agricultural and life sciences opportunities.

We work within CALS Communications, which provides access to writers and marketing experts who can help cultivate impactful ideas, consult in the development of strategic communications, and craft targeted stories that promote your efforts.

Regardless of the audience, channel or format, all Extension communications should reinforce our value and reflect a consistent identity. Explore the links below for additional guidance on telling our Extension story.


Contact our Extension Marketing and Communications team any time.

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