Updated: Dec 20, 2022
When responding to a grant application, the grantmaker may ask, "Tell us about your organization." Part of the answer to this question is explaining your organization's History. Your organization's "History" has several components, including its "Origin Story," which we will discuss in this article. The origin story is important because it humanizes your organization and shows how far you have come from your humble beginning. Like nonprofits, many grantmakers, especially Family Foundations, have an exciting back story.
The origin story will include information about your organization's 1) Formation, 2) Funders, 3) Purpose, and 4) Growth.
Formation: You may choose to share the year you began to provide services, the year you received the IRS determination letter, or both. For example, you might say, "Our organization was formed in 1954 and received its nonprofit status three years later."
Founders: Briefly describe the founder(s). You can explain how many people started the organization and provide relevant information about their background. For example, you might write, "A public-private partnership created by the Governor's Office founded our organization in 2010. The partnership includes community groups, residents, health care practitioners, the police, and K-12 educators."
Purpose: Next, tell your reader why the founders established the organization. What did the founders see, experience, or want to change in their life or community? Usually, founders notice a gap in services, access, and inclusion and want to fix it. For example, a national advocacy group might say, "The founders started our organization to fight for health equity and justice. Recent events have highlighted the differences in health outcomes among people of color compared to white people. Our policy and advocacy efforts change how communities of color receive care, starting with the providers they have to use and extending to the services that are free of charge."
Growth: You may also want to share how your organization has grown or changed over time. You might write, "Thirty years ago, our organization focused solely on providing shelter to the homeless population. Now, our organization also provides comprehensive wrap-around services, including job training, mental health, wellness, and advocacy."
Below are a few examples of origin stories that we created for you to see how to put them all together.
A sample origin story for a hospital
Smithville Community Hospital is a nonprofit health system and level 1 trauma center that annually treats 50,000 patients in the San Fernando Valley. As the largest employer and health provider in the tri-county region, Smithville has been at the center of the community for more than 100 years. The mission of Smithville Community Hospital is simple- deliver excellent, compassionate care, regardless of the ability to pay. Each year, we honor this commitment by providing over $3M in community benefit programs that lower the cost of care and increase access to health services for all.
A sample origin story for a national health advocacy group
Cure Eye Cancer is a 501C3 national nonprofit based in Washington, DC, determined to cure eye cancer forever. For the past twenty years, Cure Eye Cancer's staff, volunteers, and patient advocates have worked tirelessly to fund research and create patient support programs for this rare but deadly disease. Rita Smith, a world-renowned cancer advocate, made Cure Eye Cancer after her diagnosis in the 1980s when there were few treatments for the condition. Out of her desire to find answers, she and her husband built a community of doctors, patients, caregivers, and supporters that has grown to 500,000 people across the world. Though eye cancer still claims the lives of 500 people each year, the prognosis has improved to a 95% survival rate. Thanks mainly to the 100 treatments created from the research funded by Cure Eye Cancer and its partners.
A sample origin story for a community-based health organization
Get Fit is a 501C3 nonprofit in the Greater Houston, Texas, area that delivers health and wellness programs that help older adults get active, stay active, and improve their health. Get Fit was founded in 2005 by three endocrinologists to eliminate preventable chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension, the top two causes of poor health and early death in our local community. In their practice, they noticed that many patients diagnosed with chronic diseases wanted to take charge of their health and improve. Still, they needed access to the tools to do so, such as healthy foods and fun, medically-tailored exercise programs. Unfortunately, no such programs existed in the local area, with the nearest being a 1-hour drive away. The founders created Get Fit to fill this gap with an initial investment of $2000 and partnerships with five elder community living facilities. What started as bi-weekly dance programs and health fairs has expanded to partnerships with ten assisted living facilities and daily exercise and wellness programs that serve more than 500 seniors annually.
As you see, writing your organization's origin story is easy when you follow our recipe. If you want to learn how to write the entire History section, read, How do you write the History of a nonprofit?
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