So what do you do?
I wish our story began with a moment of clarity, and that we understood the value of what we were producing from the beginning.
The reality is Mythos began at a loud and crowded restaurant. I was seated at a large table with my wife, some friends, and some strangers. One of those strangers, trying to make conversation, asked “So what do you do?”
It’s a common question here in Washington—a way of getting the conversation started. I gave my usual answer, “I work with data and marketing.” Being polite, I returned the inquiry. He worked in the advancement office of a familiar university. It was too loud to probe any further. It was late on a Friday, I was tired, but without knowing it, we had planted the seed for Mythos.
We have an emergency
It was a few weeks later when I received a call from my new acquaintance. “We have an emergency,” he said. He wanted to know if we could help him with a data problem. “Can we meet today?”
A couple of hours later, we were meeting in a conference room. The university was producing gift reports, and they were having trouble with their data vendor. It took us a week, but we were able to pick up the pieces and create 500 reports with fund and recipient data. I had never seen a donor report before. I remember asking “do they ever receive stories from the gift recipients, or is it just this financial data?”
What a mess you’ve created
A few weeks later, we signed a contract to produce reports for the next reporting cycle. Our contact was intrigued by the idea of including gift recipient stories, so we hatched a plan to collect, edit, and assign stories to specific donors.
We used spreadsheets and Word documents to organize the content. It was a great idea in theory, but we had no idea how challenging the process of gift reporting was. Our idea added incredible stress and chaos to the stewardship team. I remember my client calling to tell me what a mess we had created and how disappointed he was. I couldn’t help thinking he was right.
We need to meet…
Two weeks after the reports were delivered, we received a meeting request. Our assumption was that we would be negotiating the numbers on the final invoice. I prepared some talking points to defend our work—not all new ideas are easy at first.
The conversation wasn’t what we prepared for. We discussed next year’s reports and the possibility of adding endowed faculty stories. I leaned over to our contact and asked “what happened?” He replied, “The donors loved the reports.”
This needs to be easier
We left the meeting with a clear directive—our client wanted to continue with the storytelling-based reports but also wanted a better process. “This needs to be easier,” he explained. We realized that the problem wasn’t going to be solved with more labor; we needed a new tool.
We sketched out a workflow for surveying, editing, and then tagging content. Our development team moved offsite for a “hackathon” week and came back with a prototype tool.
We called it Mythos.
This has implications beyond stewardship
We spent years perfecting our stewardship workflow, adding functionality and new features. My involvement with a national nonprofit and my own alma mater provided insight into the “give/get” process. I learned to be a better storyteller for the organizations I was involved with. And with this knowledge, we began adding new deliverable options, including publishing tools for proposal writing and pre-programmed templates for gift reports.
It became clear that our clients were using Mythos stories for more than just donor reports. Mythos was becoming a central marketing content library. Everyone wanted access to the stories.
We need an online deliverable
All of our Mythos development had focused on story collection, editing, and delivering PDF and printed reports. In November 2021, we began prototyping a web-based storytelling experience. Working with longtime Mythos client the University of Rochester, we developed the first Mythos- powered personalized website builder. We called it Story Portal. This development expanded the Mythos product beyond the workflow of collecting, editing and tagging content. We now had a platform for storytelling.
Where to next?
The most important thing I’ve learned on this journey is that a product like Mythos is never finished. Technology changes, language evolves, and expectations grow. So will the needs of the institutions we serve. Listening to our clients and understanding their challenges is how this journey began.
Together, we have many more stories to tell.
Yours in storytelling,
Today, Mythos is a storytelling platform—a database of story content with dynamic surveying and tagging, tools for managing workflow, and the ability to publish these narratives in print or online.
Whether you are in Stewardship, Advancement, or Admissions, Mythos can help you share your stories in personal and relevant ways to help establish belief in the value of your institution.