Wed, September 22 2010

Without our stories, we are lost - and we are forgotten

Katya Andresen's avatar

Author, Robin Hood Marketing

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Filed under:   Nonprofit leadership •

That’s right: without our stories, we are lost.  And we are forgotten.

It’s not a newsflash that we are forgotten without stories.  As I’ve said many times, a good story is the one thing that sticks with an audience.  It is guaranteed to be remembered and to motivate supporters.  That’s not as true with any other form of information.  Unfortunately, we continue to struggle mightly in our sector to tell good stories.  Most nonprofits don’t have a single story on their home page.  Appeals tend to feature a litany of statistics rather than a human story that grips a supporter’s attention. 


Maybe we are so used to seeing our work we take our stories for granted and don’t recognize them as interesting anymore.  Or maybe we are too far from our own front lines and enveloped in strategy to know what is happening to real people. Or maybe we think stories are too simplified or individualized to capture the grand scheme of what we’re trying to accomplish as an organization. 

To be effective communicators, we have to fix this.

But there’s another reason to tell stories: They aren’t just good marketing, they’re good self-reflection.  My favorite quote about life and stories is this one:

Life is understood backward, but it must be lived forward [Søren Kierkegaard]

When we look back on our own stories, we see patterns and meaning that weren’t there in the moment we experienced them.  Sometimes things don’t make sense or teach us anything until we have some temporal distance.  Suddenly, a random series of events becomes a narrative with a clear shape and significance.  We can make sense of our lives - and our work - in the story that we can see in retrospect. 

Let’s go out and collect stories about all of our work. This is not just about getting the attention of others - it’s about understanding ourselves.


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