I used to be a Development Director for a small arts education nonprofit. It was my job to raise funding for the organization, either from individual donors, or grants. If you’ve never seen a grant application, they are knotty, difficult documents. Many have word limits and even character limits for each section. The applicant has to answer the funder’s questions, in the order the funder imposes, according to the funder’s space limits. This can really get in the way of effective storytelling – the reason people give. A few, a very few, were set up to encourage a powerful, compelling story about the need and the cause being served. Most were not.
I recently read an article about the science of what makes people care. There are 5 principles for more effective communication about your cause. I am paraphrasing here, but in short, have a human story to tell, use visuals, make sure there is an emotional pull, let people know how they can help and Tell Better Stories. Numbers 1-4 all lead to #5. Tell Better Stories.
We engage and give because we are moved by a compelling story. A story has a beginning, middle and end. It has characters and context that touches our heart, even better head and heart. It makes us enter it, feel it, be part of it and maybe even want to change because of it.
Getting a Masters’ Degree in British and American Literature taught me one of the most powerful lessons I learned from story. Over several years I read the best writing, the most enduring stories, of the 19th and 20th Centuries. When I finished my coursework, I realized that I now knew what true love was – and was not. This understanding of how love behaves, and how to know when behavior is not loving, has shaped my life ever since. And all because of stories.