What’s in a Story? Your Greatest Power to Gain Support

Since our earliest days, storytelling has been central to the human experience. How we share history, learn about one another and aspire for the future.

Recently I had the good fortune of hearing Emily Gehman, a story-telling coach, discuss how individuals can harness the power of their own stories. For a room full of Inforum networkers, the presentation focused on building connections and empowering yourself through your own narratives.

With a significant portion of my client portfolio made up of nonprofits, Emily’s words reinforced what we’ve been telling clients for years to motivate awareness, understanding and action: “Our brains are created to love stories.”

If you are a nonprofit who is making a difference in the community, you should have a wide variety of stories to tell: who you’re helping and how, where monies raised go and what the future holds.

But stories are not told by metrics and statistics (albeit important support tools), they are told through the eyes of someone living the challenge your organization addresses or who has made it to the other side with your help.

For example, let’s say your nonprofit focuses on mentoring youth. Which narrative helps you understand the importance of mentorship?

  • One in four public school children drops out before finishing high school. Students who meet regularly with their mentors are 52% less likely to skip school and are 46% less likely than peers to use illegal drugs.

– or –

  • Jordan didn’t live in a particularly bad neighborhood, but both of his parents worked long hours to keep the household afloat. He felt like he couldn’t come to them with problems at school and it was getting harder and harder to resist the temptation to cut class and do drugs with his friends. A teacher who saw the warning signs in Jordan connected him with [your organization here]. Having a trusted adult he could go to helped him sort out his feelings and embrace his love of writing, which helped him graduate with honors.

The second narrative personalizes the statistics through “Jordan” and his situation, describes how the nonprofit assisted him and helps us empathize. It’s a real-world example of the organization’s mission in action, helping supporters envision a better future with your help.

It’s amazing how many nonprofit organizations do not cultivate the stories of those who are closest to their work – those who are helped, volunteers on the front lines or passionate members of the team. It’s how you get supporters (and media, if you’re hoping for coverage) interested and invested in what you do. Do you “Harness the Power of Your Story”?