The Power of Story in Nonprofit – It’s a Brain Thing

Once Upon a Time…

I was on the plane to Orlando, Florida. It was way too early in the morning and I had grabbed a coffee at the airport, but I was still under-caffeinated, tired and unmotivated. I was headed to The Nonprofit Storytelling Conference and I was looking forward to it, but I also had a lot on my mind. I had a file folder full of paper with me, the rough draft I had written for a guide on how to write a fundraising plan.

My intention for the six-hour flight from Seattle to Orlando was to edit the draft and develop instructions for the coding guy to take my spreadsheet templates and code them into interactive versions.

You know how sometimes you just can’t get the energy or interest together to do work? Instead of editing the draft, I opened the book I had ordered online and that had just arrived before my trip. I was excited about this book because I like to write fiction and I’m also a data nerd. I loved that it was focused on the science behind why stories capture us and why they don’t. Maybe this book, I thought, will help me get that damn novel written.

Then it happened.

What I knew, what I had worked on and built my expertise in; data driven strategies, goal setting, complex processes and systems for executing on a plan all crashed headlong into the power of story.

The next few days continued to completely destroy the guide I had painstakingly written– every page I read in Wired for Story by Lisa Cron, killed every last darling in the document (Thanks a lot Lady).

Flash forward a few days and I’m home – my mind full of ideas about completely reworking the guide and the templates to incorporate story.

Why? Because most people hate planning. I know this because of the resistance to it I get from clients who are actually paying me to help them plan and they still won’t do it! (Weird, right?)

And if, as Ms. Cron tells us in her book, we  internalize stories, we learn from stories and we can influence through stories; then stories should be part of the planning process. Slam dunk. Drop the Mic.

Imagine if  we can use the power of story to help our nonprofits set goals, manage projects and deliver on mission in a better way? It doesn’t hurt that stories can help us raise money too. Missions don’t get delivered on rainbows and the backs of unicorns – exceptional mission delivery requires investment (money) from donors. Those donors want the stories of how they are helping – and they want them told in a way that moves them.

On Saturdays, I will explore the power of story in nonprofit (fundraising, internal and external communications, marketing, finance, data analysis, program development and goal setting). In the meantime, I encourage you to pick up the book Wired for Story by Lisa Cron, available here.

While it’s not written for the nonprofit sector, read it with your nonprofit glasses on and see how it resonates with what you do and how you can use the science of the brain to do what you do a little better.

The End.


Author: Aimee Sheridan

Aimee has spent the last 20 years in non-profit leadership roles; raising revenue, awareness and building community partnerships to support services that care for those in need. Aimee’s signature strength has been in working with stakeholders to create comprehensive, integrated fundraising and marketing plans. By using data driven strategies focusing and on execution toward the goals, she has been able to help organizations increase their revenue because they are working on the right activities as part of the plan.

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