Storytelling has become a lost art among many modern nonprofits. Statistics now overshadow the drama, comedy and suspense in this sector and unfortunately, the few stories provided to audiences have been relegated to late night appeals that only function as guilt driven fundraisers rather than obtaining support through engagement and understanding.
The Heartstrings’ Connected to the Purse String
Those “pull on your heart strings” ads attempt to form a connection through gut reactions to horrible circumstances, however they rarely leave you informed to share more information than a brief description of a starving child or abused animal.
These “infomercials” are little more than nonprofit junk food designed for one purpose – drive donations. However they never truly accomplish the most elusive goal – creating advocate.
You may donate, you might feel like you contributed, maybe even made a difference and you might even tell a few people. This type of experience will live a box in your mind and rarely fuels further action or provide you with the tools for informed discourse.
Learning and Understanding
Think back to any learning experience in your life. Odds are it was not when you were fed information but rather when you felt a solid connection to a subject. You should have quite a few that stick with you because of the emotional bond to that memory.
Now cull those experiences to the few that impacted your current actions. Maybe it changed the direction of your career or awoke a passion that you never knew existed. Whatever happened, you were never the same person and you learned something about the world around you and how you fit into it.
What was the singular factor that made that experience stick with you for so long and not fade away into a one-time action?
Chances are it involved a story filled with character development, heroes and villains, images that did more than pass in front of you. These experiences welcomed you in to a new world, compelling you to engage with more than just your gut. This moment provided you with a framework where you understood your place in the world a bit more.
Enough with the Mushy Stuff
So now that you have this moment in your mind, you can appreciate what it took to engage you in a purpose. This is what you must now duplicate in your daily interactions with current and future supporters.
Too often, we feel comfortable throwing out statistics. We feel that when presented with the facts everyone will join our cause. That is seldom the case when building long-term support, the kind that will be there years down the road when you need it most…say during a recession.
It cannot be said enough that you care about your organization’s mission more than the average person walking down the street. Their day is filled with work, family, friends, gossip and a million tiny distractions. How will you break into that haze and be noticed?
Find Your Story
Many times it comes down to the story. Who have you helped? How did you help? What did you do that should be a banner headline on the newspaper or scrolling across a media site? Be honest, none of this “Well we just hired great new CEO…”
So here’s your homework: Think of a compelling story. Frame it in your mind. Ask yourself who would care about this story. Does it only work in your town, your city, or will it translate to other states, countries?
If it can bridge culture and language, you have a winner. Now write it down and share it.
A note: It is great if Saturday Night Live parodies your story as long as it’s not because they hate you…