The other night while watching America's Got Talent, I said to my wife, "you know, you need to have a good backstory if you want to get very far in this competition." I had recognized that while all the contestants are good at the semifinal level, contestants without much of a story were often voted off the island. Later that night, unfortunately at maybe 2:00 AM, my mind spinning with ideas, I had another revelation. I awoke with a great appreciation for the correlation between communicating a nonprofit’s value and storytelling, drawing a comparison between the show's drama and stakeholder engagement. Of course, now I was staring wide-eyed into the night.

We all love drama, it gets us connected, it gets us attached to the characters, and that leads to engagement. After all, who would have guessed that a story about a man on an island with only a volleyball as company would become a blockbuster hit movie? But, the storyteller in Cast Away allowed us to learn about our protagonist, to understand his hopes, dreams, and passions and then we watched as he struggled and triumphed. Don't fall into the trap of only talking about your organization, your issue, place of business, or your process. Invite people to get involved through stories.

Are you really telling a story, or just explaining a situation? Here are some Hip Tips to help you connect:

  1. Emotional Connection: We naturally bond with a small group or an individual protaganist rather than with the plight of thousands. Mother Theresa said, "If I look at the mass, I will never act. If I look at the one, I will."  Research has identifed that when too many people are identified with a problem, we become numb to the situation.  While data is important to back up your claims of success, that individual connection is what gets us hooked.
  2. Gravity of the Situation: While we may become desensitized to the plight of thousands, that doesn't mean we shouldn't put the problem in perspective. It's important to illustrate gravity by sharing multiple stories and by referencing the many individual stories there are that bolster your impact.
  3. Story Arc: I've found 3, 5, and 8 point story arc examples. Just remember, there's a beginning (setup), a middle (confrontation) and an end (resolution) to every story. Another way to think of it is this way: there's often a why element to the start of a story, and a struggle or tension in the middle, with a conclusion at the end. Remember Romeo and Juliet?  That's the story where boy meets girl, boy loses girl, and then boy gets girl back. Just be sure not to leave the reader wondering. Here's a pretty simple guide to story structure.

We all know that money is tight and there's only so much to go around; you need to set yourself apart from the crowd, you need to engage hearts and minds, and good storytelling can make all the difference. Give us a call at Questus Strategies to develop your strategy.