The power of sharing a personal story is well documented. We love hearing stories. Real or fiction, they add vibrancy to the human experience. They also help us feel connected to the world around us. And during these times, stories have the power to help us feel less alone in our very human experiences.
When we consider the power of personal stories for non-profit fundraising and communications, stories have the ability to help your community understand the value of your organization’s work. By hearing a personal story, donors and non-donors can understand the impact of your mission and see it in action.
In this post I want to give you a real life example of the power of sharing a personal story.
Why Telling Personal Stories Can Be a Challenge
It’s probably not a big surprise that I’m a fan of people sharing their personal stories. It’s one of the many reasons I enjoy listening to TED talks or podcasts from This American Life. Hearing people’s stories is a source of constant inspiration for me. Yet, when it comes to telling my personal stories, I often struggle to find my voice and courage.
As a self-described introvert, talking about myself is one of the things that makes me most uncomfortable. There are a million other things I would rather discuss than myself and my stories. There’s a reason for this – it’s vulnerable to tell your personal stories.
It requires a lot of emotional and mental energy for me to feel okay sharing my stories, and I know that I’m certainly not alone. I’ve also thought that I don’t have stories worth sharing. I know, I know. There’s immense irony in that belief because I’m so often coaching others to believe that they have stories worth sharing.
Moving into a place where I’m (slightly) more comfortable being vulnerable with people is something that I have been working on this past year. As I wrote in a blog post a few weeks ago, it’s become increasingly important for me to be my whole self all the time. That means being authentic. Certainly easier said than done.
So I decided to take a big leap of faith and share something deeply personal in my weekly newsletter. I wrote about my struggle with procrastination and my attempts to finish my book. You can read the story below.
I was super nervous to send that email. But I decided that it was something that I wanted to be open about with everyone; it was a way for me to be in my authenticity and potentially work my way through procrastination.
The email went out, and I went about my day. Several hours later, I checked my email to find dozens of heart-warming, incredible responses from people. Many words of encouragement and people saying that they are looking forward to reading my book – hurray! What was even more touching were emails from people who shared their own struggles with procrastination and writing.
Over the internet, across many miles I had the chance to connect with total strangers about this problem we both have. It was a beautiful thing to be a part of. While those exchanges were so powerful for me, what these emails reminded me of was the profound power of sharing your own story.
Even when it’s challenging. Even when it feels like the most difficult thing to do. Even when we feel shame about something. By telling our story, we release ourselves from those binds and give rise to an opportunity of connection.
I feel an even stronger pull to share my stories and communicate in the most authentic ways possible, even if it’s online communication. I’m over turning a long held belief that it’s unprofessional or overly dramatic; not when you are coming from a place of authenticity.
Below is the email with my personal story if you’re interested in reading it.
A Personal Story of Perfectionism and Procrastination
I want to share something that’s a little personal with you this week. Here it goes.
I have been procrastinating editing my book manuscript . . . for nearly a year.
As you might guess, I love to write. It’s one of my favorite things. So, in January 2014 I started writing a book on non-profit storytelling.
Sitting down and writing my book manuscript was remarkably easy for me. But then I came to the point when I need to actually edit it and send the book out into the world. Well, that part hasn’t been so easy.
In the last week I realized that my procrastination has nothing to do with me not wanting to finish the project. The real reason I’m procrastinating is because I’m afraid of failing. Let me explain what I mean by that.
Through the process of researching, interviewing people, and writing this book I have learned so much about storytelling. I’ve arrived at many insights I don’t think I would have otherwise had. Part of me has come to believe that my learning will never be done, and so I hesitate to believe that what will be in the book will be the “right” information.
A book is a very permanent medium. Once those words are in print, it’s not so easy to go back and make changes. What if I learn something new that contradicts what’s in print in the book? What if there are new technologies that affect how we tell stories?
The answers to most of my “what if” questions are almost always “yes.” Yes, I will learn new things that I wish would be in the book.
In my life, I’ve always tried to embrace uncertainty as a way to work through fear. Practicing this philosophy while trying to finish my book manuscript hasn’t been as easy, but I’m happy to report that I am trying my best and as of November 1, I am actively editing my book.
I do want to finish this book and be able to share it with you. It’s something I’m really proud of.
I wanted to share this challenge of mine with you for two reasons. First, I need some accountability to get this book completed! It will be available (in print) in February 2016. That’s my official, on the record commitment. Feel free to ask me about it from time to time, if you’re curious about my progress.
The second reason is that I know many of you are knee deep in year-end fundraising. Whether you find yourself struggling with writing or maybe something else, you’re not alone.
Resources for Personal Storytelling
How to Support People When Sharing a Story
Story Interviews for Non-Profits
How to Ask Your Non-Profit’s Community to Share Their Stories
Mazarine Treyz says
I love it when you share what’s really going on with you Vanessa. Your vulnerability inspires me to share- I have this self care book that I have not worked on for like… 9 months! I am so ashamed. 🙁 But at least I can tell you…
Thank you for your humanity and advocacy for millions in need.
First, My heart is with you wherever you may be Canada or original home, on the up coming event of Thanksgiving.
Secondly story telling identifies your identityI mean who you are? I endorse your up coming book. Get rid of procrastation and stay on schedule in future. Many thanks for your apdates vanessa, I wish you every success.
I find this message of story telling enlightening. I have been wanting to tell my story of struggle in running a non profit organization, I’m so passionate about it and the reason I am not where I like to be is have because I have allowed fear, and not asking, and road blocks to keep me from trying harder to accomplish my goals. Your story gave me a push to write about my struggles and how I plan to work through this period of doubt. Thank You for the encouragement.
Gina Henrie says
I agree that hearing people’s stories is a source of constant inspiration for me. I think it is powerful to be able to listen to someones life’s experiences and see how I can relate to them. Telling people yours own stories can be difficult thought just like you mention, because it is vulnerable to tell people our stories. Especially if they are ones that have any kind of failure involved. But hearing those stories can be empowering, and I think they need to be told.
I want to tell my personal story but i guess it will take a longer time.
Thank you for your humanity and advocacy!
Vanessa Chase Lockshin says
Thanks for the feedback, James! Best of luck with your story work.