I love a good story. It’s only recently through my story research that I’ve come to realize that most of the stories I love center on a strong protagonist. I identify with strong women characters like Cheryl Strayed, who writes about her thousand plus mile hike on the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mohave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State as she deals with the death of her mother and the end of her marriage.
While our life situations are vastly different, I understand Cheryl’s need for space and silence as she figures out who she is. I relate to her as a woman, and as an adventurer and that is enough to bridge the gaps between our lives. My recent move to Nepal and interest in trekking doesn’t hurt either.
A compelling character is the showpiece of storytelling that nonprofits often leave out when telling their stories. Nonprofits value facts, experts, and infographics as means to show the impact of their work. Many are afraid that if they stick to a single character, their viewers won’t understand the scope of the problem or the magnitude of the services they provide. Statistics trigger the mind's calculator; stories, which are best told visually, trigger the heart. Donors give when they have an emotional connection to an organization and its work.
The story of one, or of the individual, is the most powerful tool that nonprofits have in their communications arsenal. A story about and images of a single person have enormous power. This is most evident in fundraising. We live in a word where Kickstarter sells the stories of individuals and small teams, not products, and Watsi has met incredible success by connecting individuals needing medical care to interested donors. These organizations are harnessing the power of individual stories for the greater good.
The reason why people will connect with your nonprofits story is the same reason that I connect with Cheryl Strayed. We have a physical response to good stories, and once we’ve seen them and connected with them they become a part of us. It’s not hard for us to create parallels between our story and the stories of others.
So when you’re deciding which stories to tell, think about the people in your organization who inspire you. Your stories can be about beneficiaries, employees, volunteers, or board members. But the most important thing is that the story of whomever you choose creates an emotional connection for those who you want to inspire.