I’ve been thinking a lot about personal story recently and their power to build community.
Ever since I share some of my stories last year through my emails, I’ve been making more connections with people. How people relate to me has drastically changed. I am no longer just a person on the internet that they occasionally take fundraising advice from. I am now a person, period. They have a sense of who I am. They have seen some of my humanity. They’ve seen my flaws. All those things that make me, me.
When we tell personal stories as an organization, one of the most important things we do is convey a sense of humanity. The organization is no longer a nameless, faceless entity. It becomes associated with the people who make up that organization. It’s those people (not our programs, services, or accolades) who are interesting and who capture the attention, hearts, curiosity, and attention of other people who might eventually want to be involved with that organization.
I think what’s most important to realize is that telling these personal stories is not a matter of proving how efficient or effective our organization might be. Nor are they about proving a point that we are working towards our mission. Or that we are the most “worthy” of donor support or funding. The important thing about telling these stories is that it brings humanity back into our organization’s work. As we do that, we become more relatable. People understand us more, and they have a deeper sense of who we are and the work we do. And that’s a really priceless thing to be able to build.
So often when I work with people on storytelling, I see them kind of miss this mark. They want to just focus on revenue, how it’s going to improve the bottom line, how it’s going to transform fundraising for the organization. And that’s all true. But the real underlying benefit of it all is being able to evoke humanity and build a community around an issue.
I’ve thought a lot about this idea of community recently and the place that it has within fundraising. We often talk about our donor base or about donor engagement and things like that. But what we often forget to talk about in the midst of all this fundraising work what we are really doing is building community. Building community is different than building a one-off relationship with someone. Building community is something that holds much more power because there are a group of people behind something that support something, that believe in something.
What’s interesting about this in relation to storytelling is that as we tell stories, we also build community. We weave together an intricate woven pattern of stories of people, of common interests, of shared beliefs, shared values. All these things that communities are built around.
We also have to make sure our community members connect to each other. That they don’t just have a singular connection with the organization. And so as I’ve been thinking about this more, one of the things I’m wondering about is how can we (as organizations), facilitate connections between members of our community? What would it mean for them to connect with each other? How might that improve our overall results?
I think these are interesting questions for a lot of reasons. But one of the reasons I’m so fascinated by this is – my hypothesis anyway – is that as people connect more with each other, they will have more of a vested interest in the community. And so beyond their interest in being philanthropic, they have a vested interest in the peer community. I think this could be something very important and substantial in terms of long term commitment.
Next week during The Storytelling Non-Profit Virtual Conference, we have an incredible community of non-profit storytellers coming together to discuss this another other issues. This FREE online conference takes place February 10, 11 and 12. I hope that you’ll join us for three days of learning, discussion, and connection.