Tue, June 09 2009

Are your nonprofit’s stories winners or snoozers?  Learn here.

Katya Andresen's avatar

Author, Robin Hood Marketing

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Today Mark Rovner of SeaChange did a great talk on storytelling for Network for Good. This is an important topic, because we all have amazing stories—but we don’t always tell them. Or tell them well. Why? Mark says nonprofits want to seem smart and on top of things, so we load our stories with facts and data. But too much kills the heart of a story: emotion.

In other words, too many facts and too much data in your stories are the equivalent of emotional Novocain, says Mark.

So what belongs in a story? Character, desire and conflict.

The character is the protagonist. Who is the main character? It needs to be a person, not your organization. A good protagonist is human, attractive, funny, good-hearted and up against a serious challenge.

Desire is what the character wants and pursues.

Conflict is the active opposition to the protagonist achieving his/her goals. Conflict is very important: You need high stakes, long odds and maybe even a villain.

Here’s how it works together: You introduce a character, then an inciting event that changes the protagonist’s life. (Disney usually kills off a parent!) Then the character faces obstacles and conflicts to getting to a goal. This is the real meat of the story, when your character is struggling to get a law passed, a visa for a refuge, emergency surgery for an animal. It’s not clear if the character will prevail. Then the character prevails or fails. There is a moral and call to action at the end.

Mark says not every story needs to have a perfect ending. And definitely don’t make your characters perfect. It’s more interesting if they are real.

Here are some things to AVOID:

1. Fear of emotion
2. Bad casting (like making your hero an organization rather than a real person we care about)
3. Too wide a focus (individual people are better than many)
4. Numbers and data
5. Only happy endings
6. No moral

How are you doing on storytelling? Here’s a checklist: Try it out!

Handouts from the talk are here.

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