All Aboard! Use storytelling to unite and inspire

I had the good fortune to present at the Willamette Valley Development Officers fundraising conference in Portland, OR earlier this month. My friend and business partner Amy Blake and I debuted Super Storytelling, our comprehensive how-to on storytelling and story-collecting for nonprofits. (If you attended that session, thank you so much!) You can see the slides from our presentation here, and we hope to offer the presentation again live and on the web soon. (Stay tuned here and at the ARC Communications website for details!)

In the course of preparing for the presentation, I did a lot of research about the power of story to get the word out, educate and inspire. And since there wasn't time in the presentation to talk about all the exciting things I discovered, I thought I'd do a little brain dump here.

One of my favorite resources was Story Proof: the science behind the startling power of story by Kendall Haven. In the first couple of pages, I learned that people have been sharing stories for 100,000 years. (Not being up on my pre-history, I was pretty impressed humans had been around that long!) All that storytelling has left our brains hardwired to learn through stories and to think about life in story terms.

Haven spends a lot of time in the book going through actual neuroscience studies that clearly show that we learn better, engage more and remember details through stories. Psych studies back this up, too. And if that isn't enough for you, he includes dozens of anecdotes showing just how well it works. From schools, to corporations, to the World Bank, people have discovered -- by accident and by painstaking work -- the power of storytelling.

For nonprofits, one passage in particular stuck out to me:

"Want to develop a sense of belonging and buy-in in your organization? Collect and refine the stories of your group members that best embody the attitudes and outlook you want to promote. Actively tell these stories and encourage others to create and share their own."

If you want to get your donors to remember you, if you want them to understand and appreciate the importance of your work, and above all, if you want them to give, all the statistics in the world aren't going to work for you as well as one good story.

Make stories a key part of your fundraising strategy. Engage everyone -- fundraising folks, program people, volunteers, board members, execs, constituents and even donors -- in collecting and sharing stories. Value all contributions and share stories wherever and whenever you can.

Once you do, you'll find -- as Haven reports in anecdote after anecdote -- that the effort pays off in remarkable ways. People love stories, and when you foster a culture of storytelling, it builds on itself. People become more engaged and committed to your mission, and they pass on that engagement and commitment to newcomers.

Bottom line: Create a community of storytellers in and around your organization, and you'll inspire your staff to greater heights, lead your donors to greater giving, and ultimately, enhance the effectiveness of the critical work your organization performs.