It’s All About The Story

It is truly all about the story.

Nonprofits often face challenges finding compelling stories about people whose life was positively impacted in some profound way by a nonprofit’s service, program, or people. When we do find a compelling story it’s occasionally a jovial story that might stem from a childhood experience at a summer camp for instance – learning to swim perhaps or to fish or hike; while other stories may be more heartbreaking.

In my work serving nonprofits around the country, and my prior experience as a nonprofit executive, I have seen the positive and negative stories; and the happy and sad stories that are common place with any charity serving people – particularly people that have no place else to turn and are possibly at the end of the line – like at a homeless shelter.

But there is nothing more profound than the lives changed, especially young lives, by a local, national, or international humanitarian organization that helps people where it counts. Right at curb level – the human level.

It is ultimately the story that draws people in. It’s the story that means everything. It’s the story that, well, tells THE STORY. The story makes it all real.

Like the old adage a picture is worth 1,000 words – a great story is worth a 1,000 pictures and a million words….

At the end of the day, we in the nonprofit sector, more than anyone else, rely on stories. Stories that share the impact we are making in peoples lives. And secondarily, stories that report back to the supporters the success we have had from the funds raised. If it can accomplish this you have done your job.

In a compelling Chronicle of Philanthropy article we learn how one nonprofit urged people to share their stories about how the charity impacted their personal life. I thought this was incredibly brilliant. What the YMCA of Greater New York did was offer free T-shirts to people willing to share their stories of how the Y made a difference in their life. WOW. Simple, but definitely getting a story from the horses mouth!

All roads in philanthropy lead to the ask says Anne Bergquist, the YMCA of Greater New York’s vice president for communications. The campaign is a filter to get people engaged or re-engaged and become more deeply involved with us.

Well, I simply love this approach. Stories are told and connections are made – both deepening the engagement of people to the charity.

Then of course there is Charity: Water. Their marketing and fundraising is amazing. They have done in just a few years what every charity hopes to do – build an online presence and fundraising mechanism that turns the fundraising paradigm upside down. This they have done – there is no question. Its remarkable. But whats perhaps more amazing is the way they tell a story. The founder, Scott Harrison, is an incredibly passionate and charismatic guy… this doesn’t hurt the storytelling.

But if you do nothing else today watch this outstanding video that Charity: Water produced regarding Rachel Beckwith and her wish to raise a few under dollars to give clean drinking water to fifteen children. It is simply one of the most profound and compelling stories I have ever heard. The video is incredibly well, and tastefully, produced. It’s moving, it’s inspiring, it’s emotional, and it motivates.

Her story was further told by Richard Branson at his blog where he shared the story of Rachel to all his followers. That’s amazing – isn’t it?

This is what storytelling is all about and how it can be used to effectively help people make a connection between their head, their heart and the lives that can be impacted through ONE PESON – in this case Rachel Beckwith – who on July 23, 2011, when she was only nine-years-old, was killed in a tragic car accident.

Watch the video – now…. VIDEO

And for further reading I suggest a recent article featured at Forbes online titled 3 Golden Rules Of Successful Storytelling In The Social Era written by Victoria Barret.

Victoria’s three main points are:

1. Don’t lead with facts.

2. The story isn’t about you.

3. Forget puffery. Find your voice.

How about you? How does your charity use storytelling?