Storytelling has been the buzzword for a while now in the non-profit sector. We constantly hear that “we need to be telling our organization’s stories.” It has rapidly become something we all feel we need to do as a part of our fundraising, marketing, and communications strategies.
But what’s the point of telling a story? Really, why are we doing it?
This question came up for me last week while I was preparing to speak at the AFP Fraser Valley breakfast. I was putting together my speaking notes to give a presentation on the basics of storytelling for fundraisers. While I was jotting down tactical tips that people could use, and preparing to dissect a few examples of storytelling, I started to wonder if I was missing an essential piece of information in this presentation. I realized that the missing piece of information is the answer to this very question – what’s the point of telling a story?
I believe that being connected to our intentions—and understanding the bigger picture of what we’re doing—is imperative to success. But before I tell you about the intention that I believe drives storytelling, I want to tell you a story.
Cancer And Multiple Sclerosis. What’s The Connection?
One of my clients is Cancer Care Connection based in Delaware. They provide a social work model to support people who are affected by cancer—patients, families, and friends—through coaching, counseling and resource referrals.
I haven’t personally been affected by cancer, so when I first started consulting for them,, I didn’t feel like I had an immediate connection to their work. But that changed last month when I was visiting. I had a chance to sit down with one of their Cancer Resource Coaches, Kathie. We were talking about why people call their toll free number and what kinds of common requests she hears. She said that one of the calls she’s been receiving often in the last few months is from adult children who have a parent who has been diagnosed with cancer. Their parent has either elected different treatment or is considering a hospice, but the child is having a hard time accepting their choice.
When I heard Kathie’s story, I got goose bumps all over. I know that feeling, the conflict that child of a cancer patient is going through. My mother has Multiple Sclerosis. She was diagnosed when I was twelve years old, and it’s been something that has greatly impacted our family (see the picture of my mom and me, above). I remember when she decided to stop her treatments about eight years ago; I had a really difficult time accepting her choice. I wanted her to do what the doctors recommended. I wanted her to have a great quality of life and to still have her vision and mobility. But I felt so helpless: because there is no cure for M.S; because of how this disease affects my mom. I felt helpless in the same way those children do when they call Cancer Care Connection. All of the love and care they have for their parents can’t heal them. It is one of the most gut-wrenching feelings I’ve ever experienced.
So as Kathie and I sat there talking about these kinds of calls, I got goose bumps because, while it might not be exactly same situation, it’s the same emotion. That feeling continues to ring through me, and reminds me of the people I’m helping Cancer Care Connection to support. It has connected all of us.
It’s All About How You Make Someone Feel
My initial experience with Cancer Care Connection might be what it’s like for people who are not donors to your cause. It also might be the experience that some of your donors have right now. They don’t feel they have a really strong connection to your cause. They choose to give because they want to do good, but they are lacking that stronger conviction.
They may not have a direct connection to your mission, but chances are that they will probably be able to relate through some other life experience they have had.
This is the point of telling stories. It’s about connecting people through feelings and emotions they can relate to personally. All too often, we forget about this basic intention of telling a story.
This week, I encourage you to think about the emotions and feelings to which you’re trying to connect your donors and your community. What emotions are your clients having when they come to your organization for support? How can you better convey their unique experiences through the stories you tell?
Please leave a comment below and tell me about the emotions that you’re trying to connect people to.