In recent years, the power and popularity of storytelling has become commonplace. From TED talks to the rise of podcasts and online videos, more and more we are seeking and finding experiences that remind us of this most basic element of culture.
But there are still plenty of places where storytelling may not seem to be the most intuitive solution. For example, storytelling isn't something that naturally comes to mind when we think of board meetings, quarterly reports, or even fundraising events.
Nevertheless, brain research shows that stories are a part of all that we do because they help us:
Make sense of information
Shift our attention and energy from critical thinking to empathy
Align with one another
Feel motivated to take action
Any work that involves people - outreach, fundraising, marketing, or consensus building - always tells a story. When we recognize that, we can ask ourselves whether the story we are telling is the one we should be.
What makes a great story?
In a great story:
The story centers around a hero
The hero is confronted by a challenge
The hero must face many difficulties and rely on allies for assistance
The hero overcomes all obstacles and finds resolution
Stories are always about change. They can lead us to realize change in our lives. Change happens when we see that something different is not just possible but better. It happens when the hero in us is inspired to do whatever it takes to make those possibilities a reality.
What stories can your organization tell?
If you work in the social sector, everything you do is about change, whether you are seeking to improve education, health, employment, environment, etc. The stories we tell must not only be about what we are doing, but also why we are doing it and who it involves and impacts. If we become good storytellers, we can inspire those we serve to act like the heroes that they truly are in order to create the change we all seek.
Antoine De Saint-Exupery once wrote, “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”
Consider what your team or organization is working to change and what stories might help you do so:
What people understand and believe to be true. Stories can convey facts smoothly. Use data storytelling to describe the issues you are working to address, for example.
Current insights and solutions. Stories can teach and explain. Use quotes and case studies to provide models for how your teammates, organization, or others you know of have addressed these issues.
Actions. Stories can inspire and galvanize. Use stories that showcase progress, highlighting how your audience can get involved.
The best part about stories is that they bring us together. No hero can do it alone. Together we can overcome the obstacles before us and celebrate a shared victory. Now that’s a story always worth telling.
This blog was originally shared on Young Nonprofit Professionals Network Denver’s blog, where I will be writing an advice column about nonprofit marketing and communications. Please send your frustrations, challenges, and curiosities to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will respond for the benefit of many! (There are no silly questions and you will remain anonymous, of course.)