How Storytelling Can Up Your Fundraising
Sharing a concise and compelling story about your organization is a foundational component to your ability to invite folks to know and do more for your organization. And the passion you have for your mission can actually thwart your ability to get that story just right. Join Joan Garry as she breaks down the core components of great storytelling, how to build an inventory of them and to create a culture of storytelling in your organization, especially your board.
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How Storytelling Can Up Your Fundraising TranscriptPrint Transcript
I am going to talk about storytelling.
and here’s why. And
for please forgive me, I don’t know why that happened again, there we go. All right.
Sharing a concise and compelling story about your organization is a foundational Read More
I am going to talk about storytelling.
and here’s why. And
for please forgive me, I don’t know why that happened again, there we go. All right.
Sharing a concise and compelling story about your organization is a foundational component to your ability to invite folks to know and do more for your organization. Now, notice, I didn’t say the words, fundraising, raising money, I want everyone on this call, to think of themselves as ambassadors, who are in the storytelling business.
It’s a different framing, and I’m not avoiding the word fundraising, I just want you to sit with us this afternoon for these
45 or 50 minutes and think of yourself as a storyteller, an ambassador, and someone who is inviting others to know and do more with and for your organization.
that as excellent as most nonprofit executive directors are at public speaking,
we have trouble getting storytelling, right. And the reason is that we don’t understand its power.
And to be really, really honest, we do not know how to tell a good story about our organizations. It seems a little odd, doesn’t it? It seems odd that you would not know how to tell a good story. But I’m going to tell you a story.
And the story I’m going to tell you is an evening I spent at a gala, where I was parked next to a woman who ran a nonprofit. And the honoree of the evening wanted the two of us to know each other. And so I said to this woman, please tell me about your organization.
20 minutes later, this woman was still talking about her organization.
Now, I said to her,
you may rue the day that you receded adjacent to me at this dinner. But would you mind answering my question again, and this time, pretend I am 15 years old, and you only have five minutes?
Well, not only did I not insult her, she got much better at it, and ultimately hired me as
an I became a client of hers, which was actually not my intention.
But here’s what I want you to think about. I want you to think about this equation. And I want you to really put it in your head credible messenger plus compelling story equals resources.
This is the key
to growing the resources of your organization, a credible messenger who tells a kickass story.
It’s, believe it or not, it’s really that simple.
So when I talk about resources, what am I talking about? Right? You’re a credible messenger, you’re the Development Director, you’re the board chair, you’re the executive director, right? You tell a compelling story to your next client who needs you to your next voms hear your next board prospect, your next donor, your next journalist or blogger who wants to amplify your story.
If you want more people to be a part of the posse of your organization, you have got to tell a great story. And in when you do, you are in the business of reaching these kinds of resources that will allow you to have more of a feeling of abundance about your organization, rather than coming from a place of scarcity.
So who me a credible messenger? The reason I put this slide up here is because I think if you’re the executive director, you understand that you’re a leader and an ambassador and she fundraiser or the chief spokesperson. But does your board members do you board members think of themselves as credible messengers.
But they don’t. Not always because they’ve not been trained to tell a good story. Right?
Yeah, I don’t think they do. I’ve met him
Any board members at varying fundraisers of one sort or another who, uh, for organizations, and they have never even told me they were board members, they’ve never even given me the opportunity to understand that their leader in the organization. So you’ll see as we get to the recipe part of this, that actually identifying yourself as a credible messenger is part of the key to bringing resources to your organization.
All right now.
It is hard to tell a good story. I’m gonna be really honest with you.
Now, it happens to be pretty easy for me that maybe because I could not possibly be any more Irish than I actually am. And many people happen to be first rate, storytellers.
And maybe that’s why this is a thing for me. But it has to be a thing for you, even if you aren’t part of me, people.
So why is it hard to tell a good story? Well, I’m going to tell you
Ernie is my seven month old grandson, I have one grandson, and that’s him. That’s Ernie.
And by the way, I don’t know if there’s anybody here named Ernie. But I have yet to find anyone other than Burt’s friend on Sesame Street named Ernie, except for my grandson. It’s one of those like old names. It’s not coming back.
Unless Ernie brings it back. Why is earning in my slide deck? Because I’m going to tell you about Ernie.
I’ll get started.
But I won’t know where to finish.
Because I am absolutely passionate about Ernie. He’s like the sun and the moon and our house.
Passion can get in your way. Because you can’t edit when you’re passionate.
So what you end up doing is you end up telling things, telling things about Ernie, you end up listing some of the what
Ernie is getting his first tooth is Ernie is drooling, because he’s getting his first tooth.
Ernie is about to start crawling
around, he lives in Massachusetts, right, I could go on and on and list all the things that would be useful for you to know about Ernie, his father is a jazz musician. He seems to like the drums, which is a little unnerving for me.
But like I’m all over the place if I have to talk about Ernie, and I’m happy to talk about Ernie.
This is in fact, the fundamental problem that board members and staff members have in telling a good story is what do you tell? What do you leave out? And how do you light somebody up like a Roman Candle about your organization.
That’s what good storytelling is about.
So today, I’m going to actually offer you four do’s and for don’ts.
So let’s start with the do’s.
Now let’s start with the dogs.
I remember I decided to start with the don’ts.
And just so you know I am Wow. Look at this. I just don’t I’m flying through the questions that are just I’m
just the questions field and I’m just looking at just such an are remarkable diversity of work that you all do.
How grateful we all should be for what you do.
So now I want to help you get really good at talking about it so that you can grow your resources.
For dues don’t assume
that when I taught at the University of Pennsylvania, I was teaching nonprofit communications. And I will tell you that we
had an exercise in our seminar where every person had to pull up a nonprofit organization and read off of their homepage
and then try to explain to the rest of the class of 24 what the organization was all about.
And I hate to actually tell you this, but it was one of the funniest sessions we had every semester.
Because so much of it was
either unintelligible or had so much jargon and acronyms.
that nobody could figure out what this organization did.
And it was quite universal.
And wants to if you ever have an opportunity to read an interesting book, even a first chapter of a book, the Heath brothers, Dan and Chip Heath have written a book called Made to Stick. In chapter one, they talk about something called the curse of knowledge.
And what that means is that once you actually know something, it’s hard to imagine not knowing it, it’s hard to imagine that the person you’re talking to doesn’t know it. So if there’s some acronym, like SAMSA, or, you know, the National Association, and a beloved GI Bill, bloody Bloody, you can’t assume that anybody knows it.
So do not assume that your listener knows you’re inside baseball, you’ll lose them.
The second don’t is Please do not make a list of what you do.
Instead, they’re going What are you talking about? Joan, I have to talk about what we do. Yeah, you do, but not in list format. So I’ll tell you.
Gay Men’s Health Crisis GMHC, New York City, the world’s oldest and largest organization, supporting advocating
for people living with HIV and AIDS and fighting for a cure. If I told you about GMHC, I might say, oh my gosh, it is such a big organization. It does so many things.
It has a food pantry. It does Friday night dinners for the folks who are homeless out there live with HIV and AIDS. We have a mental health program. We have a substance abuse program. We have lawyers on staff who can help with legal issues. And we have housing coordinators.
Do you hear you hear me hear my list? Does anybody remember the first thing on my list? You see, that’s the problem with the list. A list doesn’t hang the whole thing together, just like it did with Ernie. Like Ernie Snyder, the center of the story. I made a list of what Ernie does, I made a list of what programs GMHC offers. That’s not a story.
The third don’t is do not lead with your mission or your vision statement.
Some people have wonderful mission statements, most people do not.
If you lead with a mission statement of your organization, there is a pretty high likelihood that you will say something that will sound sort of like
an incomprehensible Pledge of Allegiance.
That mission statements are wordsmith to death by committees, and often
have the soul the energy and the emotion torn out of them completely. If you meet me at a cocktail party about an organization and you say my our mission statement is I might I my presumption is it’s not going to make that much sense. And it’s not going to fire me up very much.
Now, how about a vision statement?
Now some people will get ignited by a vision statement, other people will freeze. Right? If I’m at that same cocktail party. So someone in this in the chat here said they were in the human trafficking space.
And you came up to me and I said, well tell me about your organization. And you said, we’re looking to end human trafficking all around the world.
Now, if I’m kind, I’m gonna say, Wow, tell me more about that. I don’t even know how big a problem that is. Actually, I’m pretending
there are some people who will freeze and if they’re smart asses, what they’ll say is good luck with that. And they’ll look at their half empty glass of Pinot Noir and decide to head back with the bar back to the bar. So I don’t want you to leave your submission, and I only want you to leave with your vision statement. And last but not least, I do not want you to ramble. You have to practice this. You can’t just start to spit out the things that make you fired up. It’s got to hang together.
Okay, so there are my four don’ts.
And I do see some questions in the chat and I will come back to them.
Um, alright, so those are don’ts. So maybe I should give you some do’s All right. I will
this is the most important one.
Regardless of what somebody asks you
what does your organization do is the most common thing someone will ask you, I want you
to think this is the question that they asked you. Tell me about your organization.
Tell me about your organization, as opposed to what does your organization do? Right? The reason I want you to change the question is because if the question is, what does your organization do,
it drives you to a list of programs.
If you here tell me about your organization, the field is wide open, I love to tell you in about our organization, I’m a board member. And I consider it such a joy and a privilege to be part of this work in the in the space of at risk youth mentoring, like Timothy, right?
Not what we do, tell me about your organization. The second thing is rather than list the programs
rather than list the programs,
I want you to design a story. And I guarantee you that every single one of you has a story that you can tell
as an anchor,
An anchor, to be able to then talk about the programs.
and what that means is anchoring the organization around who you serve.
So rather than a list of programs, I want you to think about this for a minute.
And this isn’t the kind of story I’m exactly talking about, because I’ll use an example in a second.
But remember, I’m talking about GMHC. And I listed all those programs, seven or eight or nine or 10 programs.
But what if I talked about it, and I met you and and I met you at a cocktail party, and I’m a Board Chair at GMHC. And you say so tell me what GMHC does. Boom, in my head, tell me about GMHC.
I would love to tell you about GMHC.
GMHC is the world’s largest and oldest organization that advocates and supports people living with HIV and AIDS. Now, I don’t know if you know this or not.
But people living with HIV and AIDS.
encounter a vast array of challenges in their lives. And if we are going to successfully advocate and support for them, we have to actually understand those challenges and meet their needs. And so for mental health services, to lawyers on our team, to food pantries for those who are food insecure to substance abuse programs and many more. We put people who live with HIV and AIDS in the center of our world every single day.
You see the difference between the list and what I call the sort of the the Hub and Spoke approach to talking about your organization. Right? Who is the person in the center? Who is the what is the community that’s in the center, and then your programs become spokes that you can reference as you tell about the organization.
The third do is to ask a question that reveals need.
So I work for an organization in New York City. It’s a national organization. It’s called the wrote The road is Hebrew for Jenner generations. And they connect younger, younger Jews with Jews in New York City who live on their own and are aging.
Then I could do a good job of telling you a great story about Detroit. But what I want to say is in this situation, I’m going to tell you something Did you know that blank percentage
Jew Jewish, elderly people right over the age of X live on their own
and are not close?
have family do not live close to family. And there is a statistic like this. So what I’ve done is I’ve actually and you, each of you has a question or a question like that, or in a need statement. Or you can even ask them how, what percentage do you think?
Right, live independently, and can use the companionship of a young
Jewish students studying for their B’nai Mitzvah.
So ask a question that reveals need, and then you actually have started to engage. And then lastly, really, I don’t I don’t get it. Board members need to be really reminded of this. Be enthusiastic because it’s contagious. Right? Hi, my name is Joan and I, I work for God’s love, we deliver we deliver hot meals, hot, nutritious meals, to people who are chronically ill, and homebound.
As opposed to,
hey, I’m so glad you’re here. I’m Joe, and I’m on the board of God’s Love We Deliver. And I’ve been a part of the organization. I started as a volunteer in the kitchen about 15 years ago. And it just feels such like such a joy and such a privilege to be on the board. Right.
One is enthusiasm. That’s contagious. One is just the facts, ma’am.
Okay, so there’s your do’s and don’ts.
You don’t have a lot of time, if you’re working at a cocktail party, if you’re, you know, at a fundraiser, you have a couple of minutes, three minutes to just get it all out on the table. So you’ve got to be clear, and you’ve got to edit. Right? So
with those things in mind
I want to help put it all together.
And I’m gonna give you
this storytelling recipe.
And this is a recipe that, that you can share. It’s it’s almost like a template that people can make their own.
And I want to offer some advice about how to practice. And you have to practice. Because what happens time and time and time again, is that you’re at some event or at your gala or something and someone asks you about the organization, and you’re a board member, and you start to sort of fumble a bit and doing your elevator pitch. And then you say, you know who really knows how to talk about this organization? Have you met our Executive Director, Jamal Williams?
Can I introduce you to Jamal, come on? Well, meanwhile, Jamal has got 20 People online waiting to talk to him. Because board members don’t feel comfortable telling stories to problems, not everybody’s gonna get to Jim Hall.
And secondly, when I started the fumble as a board member, I couldn’t actually really tell the story of the organization. What kind of leader does that make me look like? Not very credible, not very credible.
So, here’s so we have to actually cut it into bite sized pieces, like I’ll be doing with food for my grandson Ernie soon. And
here’s how it can work
okay, here’s the guide.
Hi, I tell you might name and my role
I say something with enthusiasm or privilege about my role
then I have something that I have put together that simple that eliminates the curse of knowledge, our organization is all about blank
then I go to the data to support the need. Did you know that right so I have my Did you know then
can I tell you a brief story
this is one of hundreds of stories I could tell you about this amazing organization. And you always end with would you like to know more?
If you have done this right, the person will always say yes. And people will always say yes to to Can I tell you a brief story. If it’s actually
I’m going to tell you, I’m going to go back to God’s Love We Deliver.
And I am going to pretend that I have met you at a
cocktail party fundraiser for God’s Love We Deliver.
And I’m going to tell you two different stories.
Right? The first one is kind of just the facts like I gave you a few minutes ago, right? So I might say, Hi, I’m Joan. I’m on the board of God’s love, we deliver. I’m really glad you’re here to learn more about our organization.
And you probably know,
you probably know that we deliver hot, nutritious meals to chronic homebound, chronic homebound folks who live with chronic illnesses. And we serve Exedy X meals every day. We have grown, we started at x and now we’re at Why did you know blah, blah, blah, that serves X number of people in the five boroughs of New York, live alone with no relatives or nearby, and that we are their lifeline that we are delivering to them. Not just food, but hope. Okay, so does that too that too bad.
But it’s where the story comes in. That makes all the difference? Right?
When you tell the story about God’s love, we deliver or any of the number that we have here in the in the question box, bring it to life. Remember the hub and spoke and remember real names.
Make it like a real story. So can I tell you a brief story about God’s Love We Deliver? Hopefully it’s going to be brief.
So I started on this on the Tuesday morning kitchen crew 630 In the morning, every Tuesday. Some of those people are still my dearest friends and come for Passover Seder every year. I built lifelong relationships through my volunteerism and it kept me connected. today. I’m on the board. And I never really I wanted early on as a volunteer. I wanted to go out and meet someone who was the beneficiary of the soup that I make on Tuesday mornings. So I went on a truck
and I wanted a truck with Sam. Sam has been driving our trucks for 23 years. I’ve never met anyone more passionate about their work than Sam. It was cold that day. I really wish I had worn gloves. And we went it happened to be Thanksgiving. And we went to Miriam’s house. We knocked on the door, took a while for Miriam to get to the door she knew was Thanksgiving.
it really struck me when she said you know, I had Thanksgiving you You brought me Thanksgiving dinner last year to
you and I have to confess your cranberry sauce is better than the cranberry sauce that I made when I had my family Thanksgivings. And I really appreciate you’re
caring enough about me
to stop by on Thanksgiving, and I wish you Happy Thanksgiving. Well, I gotta tell you what.
I never after that, did I ever balk about getting on the subway at 630 in the morning? I couldn’t make enough soup. Because all the time I thought about Miriam Do you know how many Miriam’s we have? We have x 100,000 Miriam’s that we feed every single day, every single day, seven days a week, even holidays, and especially holidays. Would you like to know more?
That’s how it works.
That’s how it works. Now, some organizations can’t use real names. You can create an avatar. There’s a lot of different ways to tell stories, when the privacy of your clients matters a great deal. Or you use a different name, let’s call her Marian. But that’s what it has to look like. That’s a recipe and when you do that
right what happens? The person listening says really, you do that? Wow. I want to know more.
I want to know more.
I want you to
Remember that each and every one of you
is in the invitation business.
Right? Whether you’re inviting someone to become a volunteer, whether you’re inviting someone to become a donor, right, you’ve heard this story, right? Your job is to ask their job is to decide. That’s, that’s an invitation, right? You just have to make the invitation clear, concise, compelling, and it needs if you can, if it could create goosebumps, that person is not going to want to miss the opportunity that comes with that invitation.
You are doing something really, really special. And your job is to invite them so that they know how special it is. And they don’t miss out. They might say no for any number of reasons. But it should not be because you have not made a warm, compelling, energizing, story based
If you have a lot of lawyers on your board, this work is harder, because lawyers tend to want to make the case they want data. Right? They want a list of objection questions, so that they are not caught off guard in any way. And I am here to tell you that if you make the heart argument, the way that I just described,
someone might ask a question that you not might not know the answer to. I ran an LGBT organization for 10 years, and many times donors asked me questions I didn’t know the answers to, frankly, it gave me the opportunity to say, you know, who does know the answer is Julie, Julie is my rock star blank. And as you know, this organization has a tremendous team.
Right, it gives me the opportunity to sell my team. But lawyers can in fact feel caught off guard if they’re asked a question they don’t know the answers to. So when we actually start to engage boards in storytelling, we have to be mindful of that.
So this is not something that happens overnight, you’re not just going to give, you know, take my slides and and have there be a
you know, a template that you create, that you say, Okay, here’s how you tell a story.
You’ve got to practice. And I’m going to give you a little advice on how to approach practicing.
in fact, actually I founded about six years ago, the nonprofit leadership Lab, which is an online community, with content and community for board and staff leaders of small to mid sized nonprofits. During our six years, we’ve helped about 20,000 board and staff members have real have greater impact, be more effective leaders and managers and occasionally even get home from work on time.
And I preach about this every single day.
The development staff, if you’re lucky enough to have development staff should work with the development committee, the development committee, one of their charges for a particular calendar year should be how do we build a culture of storytelling on our board. And you can use these materials to begin that process.
I just had a team retreat for my 15 folks who work with me in the nonprofit leadership lab, and we actually did this very exercise. I had them go away for 10 minutes with this template and come back and share with their colleagues. Why the nonprofit leadership lab is such a remarkable, impactful, mission driven business.
And it requires a lot of practice. So if someone stood up did their pitch, and then we said okay, what did you like about what you heard? What what worked for you? And then conversely, what do you wish you had heard, that you didn’t hear? So you can hear how non jeje those questions are. People learn from each other. And it is a not a one off exercise. You can do it at staff meetings and board meetings. And they should be ongoing, right? You don’t have to do everyone you could say okay, once every board meeting, we’re going to have a couple of people do do elevator pitches, and we’ll have that little exercise so that the next time your staff and your board are interacting with
donors or volunteers are prospective, fill in the blanks.
They won’t stumble. And they won’t point to the CEO or the executive director because they’re going to have built and exercised their storytelling muscle.
So just a quick story, and then I want to open it up for questions. So as was noted, at the very, very beginning of this presentation, I have a very successful blog. I actually never intended to have a blog, I wanted a website, someone told me, I should start writing a blog. And so about 100,000 people a month, from countries all around the world. Visit my blog every month that John geary.com.
And then I started a podcast called nonprofits are messy. And in that, in that podcast, I really tried to keep in mind, what are the questions that all of you are grappling with? And how can I go and find some expert?
Who can answer that question for you.
But by virtue of getting this big, old platform, I started getting people calling me on the phone, people I’ve never met, people emailed me, people texted me. And they ran small nonprofits.
And they were hungry for support, no professional development dollars in their budget. These are people that have budgets under a million bucks or half a million bucks, or lower, or founders.
And I was getting so many calls, and I was feeling terribly guilty. I’m
going went to Catholic school. So guilt comes quite easily to me.
And we turned what so many of you did during the pandemic is we turned a challenge into an opportunity. And we said, well, what if we could? What if we could create an online resource for small, small to mid sized nonprofits, where I could actually scale the way that I coach, how I teach offer resources, it would save you time, storytelling is a core fundamental we teach in the lab. And so six and a half years ago, so what happened is my digital marketing partner, the one who told me to have a blog instead of a podcast. So why don’t we build an online platform. And so we did this called the nonprofit leadership lab. You can join it at any time.
It is a modest cost,
and a monthly subscription or an annual subscription. And I just can tell you that we have, as I said, have touched and reached close to 20,000 leaders in the six and a half years. And we’re growing kind of by leaps and bounds. And
if you’re looking for some ongoing professional development, right, some way to have access to me for q&a is or to experts who come in on particular topics. give a thought to the nonprofit leadership lab, consider joining us on this journey. Yes, that is me. But I it’s not really my car. And you can either use, grab this QR code, you can also text d p 25 212, a 17787577.
And if you join through this particular QR code, or this,
this URL, you will get 25% off on your first year’s membership.
It is completely and utterly mission driven for me. And if you think it might be something that you’d be interested in, you should go on over and have a look.
So that’s me, and I’m going to stop sharing my slides now. And then I’m going to hopefully, um,
I’m going to stop sharing my screen.
And I’m back and I don’t know how much of all of this stuff you are seeing
is, is everybody seeing like all of this stuff, or just my? Just me? I don’t know.
And I could really use
I could really use a little bit of help, because I can’t actually see all the I see them flagged. Ah, okay. So there are some questions that are flagged here.
But go ahead and throw some other questions in the chat. I actually really enjoy answering questions. Um
but here’s my deal is I can’t see the whole question. Ah,
how about practicing with family members?
Okay, I got it now. I got it. Sorry.
How about practicing with family members and friends until I become it becomes more natural. I think that’s a swell idea. In fact, I often say that if you can actually sit at the kitchen table and talk to, if you don’t have a 15 year old, go grab one from the neighborhood or something and say, I want to tell you about the organization I work for. It’s an awesome way to get started to really get comfortable with with storytelling.
Okay, ah, All right, next question. I hear. Um, I struggle with storytelling, because this is from Jennifer. Let me see. Hold on one second. I’m sorry, I’m just futzing with my questions screen here, Jennifer Whiston.
And let me just open it up. So I can read the whole question. Maybe that’s as far as I get. Yeah.
Okay, so what I have is our eyes straw, there we go. There it is, I struggle with storytelling, we because we do not provide direct service. But we do Empower startups that make the legal ecosystem more accessible.
Right. Okay. So I am going to just kind of cut there and just go to
you don’t have to be I gave a lot of direct service examples. today. It is true, not because this is the only way to tell a story.
you can tell a story about any organization. But even in the description that you had using legal using ecosystem, these kinds of words, they’re probably not going to fly with a 15 year old that you’ve borrowed at the kitchen table. Right? So
I weren’t ran an advocacy organization for 10 years. I didn’t I didn’t have I didn’t have a building. I couldn’t take people on a tour. I couldn’t show them a clinic. I couldn’t talk about, you know, a particular individual, right. Um,
I had a, I had to take different different paths. So for example, blab was an organization that was in the business of we worked specifically to advocate that the media tell fair, accurate and Inclusive Stories about LGBT people.
And my Did you know, was Did you know that the most? If you want to change hearts and minds about LGBT people, the number one way is to know someone who is it’s pretty obvious. What’s the number two way according to Pew Research, the media, characters on TV, news stories, right. And so I was actually able to talk about what happens when a story doesn’t include us what happens when stories are
problematic, stereotypes, homophobic. And I was also able to talk about strategies that we employed
to scale visibility. So we worked with lobbied the New York Times to include same sex couples on its wedding pages, and then went and grabbed every newspaper in the country, every newspaper in the country. So what you have to do is actually start to talk about, you have to focus more on need an impact, right?
Then potentially, on the impact it will have on an individual person.
So that’s kind of how I might think about it. And that’s why storytelling will be such a good exercise for you, because different people are going to approach it different ways.
And, and this is why telling that story around the around the kitchen table, the family and friends could be super helpful.
What would you say to a development professional who feels stuck in an organization that has strong anti storytelling culture, and this is Shelby ball.
So the first thing I would say to this to that development director is
you gotta dig what’s at the heart of that?
What would make an organization anti storytelling?
And I don’t know the answer to that.
But I have I have at least one hypothesis, and this is something that executive directors and development directors have to be really good at,
is that they have to actually turn
earn out and, and actually provide these stories, syndicate them throughout the entire organization. Right in order for me to tell that can I tell you a brief story, I have to have a couple of them to
at my disposal, and I don’t I don’t know why anybody would be against getting an email every couple of weeks, I did something at GLAAD, it was called the
bi weekly cocktail party soundbite email from Joan. And what I did is I had members of my staff were, were allowed to submit, I encouraged them to submit store impact stories, using this kind of template to me by a certain date, and I would pick three stories
and shape them up a little bit. And then I’d fire them out to my board members. Here are the three stories you can tell if you’re out and about at a cocktail party, or at a supermarket or at a barbecue this weekend. Two things happened. My board then had stories, those stories were really impressive. Right? I was doing my job by fueling them with stories, I guess what else? Is it my team became very good at storytelling because they want it to be in my email. So I get these, you know, I get a note saying, How come you didn’t pick my story this week? Well, because I think next time if you did x, y and z, that story would be spot on. And so people storytelling muscles got better just by virtue of just sort of the competition of wanting to be in the in the email itself.
All right. Here’s another question. This is one from Zoey Templeton, how can we work with or coach folks who tend to do the data dump non top nonstop talking about statistics, facts and figures?
Is fuel them with stories? I would actually do a version of this. Like I said, I would have the development department, the development, the development committee see itself as a peer accountability for making sure that folks have what they need to tell these good stories, right.
They need to understand that facts and figures don’t actually light me up. Say this to the facts and figures, people try the exercise and say what what worked, what do you wish, and maybe somebody will actually say, I wish there were there were less statistics, and that you had used one of the stories that Jamal set out last week that really brings those statistics to life. But you want to get to the business where people are workshopping them together.
the other thing that I tell people all the time, and those of those folks who are here, I know there are some members of the lab who are here, have heard me say this before, I think about, you know, if you’ve got the right board members and the right staff members, you have recruited them, because you’ve seen not just skills and expertise. But you’ve seen that they have a passion for the mission. And I refer to it as like a pilot light. And you can see it, it’s pretty bright, right.
the organization’s goal with its key stakeholders is to keep that light bright. And in fact, make it brighter. It’s far too often because because of data dumping because of statistics, we actually, we actually tend to
the flame gets smaller. And we’ve been, we’ve been known actually to put pilot lights out. We do it at board meetings all the time by spending all of our time on weedy financials. Instead, think about how great it is, if you’re doing storytelling at a board meeting for just 15 or 20 minutes, or 10 minutes, even how great that is to fire people up and remind them while they’re really there. They’re not really there to look at the variance and why the the blank was a little bit more expensive than we budgeted for. Right. They know they have to do that work, and it’s important, but they’re fueled by the stories.
All right. Oh, I see more questions. I better go faster. Okay, I’ve got four minutes. Here we go. Um, what advice do you have in regard to a nonprofit in the middle of a rebrand and they’re stuck between an old brand and still looking working on what their new one will look like?
And that comes from rose Margrave rows. Good question.
Always, always, always, always, always go to the origin story of your organization.
What was it? What was the need? What was the gap on day one, because regardless of your brand, your origin story is seems kind of a funny thing to call your origin story, your North Star. But whatever it is that you can be true to. In terms of your origin story, I’m not saying that your origin story becomes the story, but it’s going to link the old brand to the new brand.
Right, I’ve worked with caught with clients where we’ve actually rebranded and we’ve recaptured or reclaimed words like 1980, the word radical, whereas the board was no longer radical was made largely up of honestly, sort of older affluent white individuals, who did not actually embrace the word radical. And we reframed that word by going back to the origin story. So I would think about that. Okay. And this is the lightning round in three minutes.
Different stories for different situations. You bet, Elizabeth Paul salutely, depends on who you’re talking to. Right? Right. Um, if I if I work for, if I’m the CEO of I’m just gonna pick PFLAG parents, friends and families of LGBT kids, like, who I’m talking to totally depends if I’m talking to a parent, I’m going to tell one kind of a story. Right? So asking them why they’re here, what drew them to the organization can help you fine tune this to the story that makes the most sense and is going to light that person up the most. I’m new to my organization. I feel like I’m not sure I have a good story to tell yet. How do I develop one? Tara Brandt, go
and climb all over the work. Touching, go talk to the founder, go talk to some clients, right? Go talk to some people that have been impacted by the organization. Right? Find the stories. But that’s,
that’s how I would do it is and you’re going to need to do that anyway, right? Because that’s what’s going to fuel you. I often talk about how stuck at our desks we get, and we don’t spend enough time actually touching the work. And when you touch the work, it puts gas in your tank and gives you stories to tell. Work I am this is Pamela Maddix I’m working with an NPO that will not will not have a mission until the school is built in Kenya. And that’s what we’re raising money for. The board is national and we are never all together except on the phone. What will work best for us now?
I’m intrigued about
okay, so Pamela, I’m just gonna say
the challenge for me and your question is you’re building a school in Kenya, but you do not yet have a mission, you must have, you must have a, they may not have a mission statement, but you must have a fundamental purpose. And I think that’s what you’ve got to work on to, you’ve got to capture the imagination of the people, what what this school will what I would totally focus on is what will this school make possible in Kenya? Why was it needed and What’s distinctive about it? Right, you’re gonna have to do that. Right is especially if you are US based and raising money for something that is international. So that’s, that’s how I would approach it. And
I believe and I have a completely remote staff of 15. We do everything on Zoom, not on the phone, I do call people from time to time, but I would very least I would move my board meetings to zoom. So I can see people and I can engage with them, just like I’m engaging with you now.
What do you do if members of the team have different visions for the story to tell? And how to tell it? How do you rise above the various opinions? So there are lots of different ways to tell stories, and this is from Patrick grego. Very different ways to tell stories. So I’m not suggesting that everybody’s got to be like a robot, tell him you know, according to my template, the issue, if you’re talking about vision, as in, they’re talking about the organization this way, and they’re talking about the organization this way, and it makes me confused about what the organization is fundamentally about, then you have a strategic vision problem.
Right, my colleague, Dan Oh, SCIAC in the nonprofit leadership lab, he used to be the head of the Time Warner Foundation, and he would have people come in and the executive director would talk about the organization and then the board chair would talk about the organization. And Dan said it was like listening to people talk about two completely different organizations. Right
that’s happening. That’s not a storytelling problem. That’s a fundamental core identity vision problem.
I hear all the time about the importance of engaging your board and development work. Any tips because I have been trying, Melissa Foster? By the way, you’re not the only one, I bet there would be a schedule you did. I was here. And I would just say
this is a, this is actually a great way put to start to say let’s let’s start to reframe board members, as ambassadors.
Meet with your development chair and the and the board chair and say, let’s start to talk about what it means to be a great ambassador, and start to shift them into thinking about being storytellers.
And people who are in the invitation business, I generally find that if you can make that reframe, your development committee will actually start to engage. And, you know, would you like to know more, they’ll end up with a business card or a second meeting, I see it happen all the time.
Someone will please tell me if I actually need to zip it up. I’m gonna keep flying through these questions. Is it okay to have someone who benefits from our foundation provides storytelling? I can answer this question really fast. Hell, yes. Right. Those who have been impacted by your foundation are excellent. Right. i Today I was focused largely on the stories. But the messengers of the stories are also can be incredibly impactful. I did a panel one time with GLAAD where I brought in journalists, and had them talk about the challenges of working with an advocacy organization. What was working about our relationship with media? What could we be doing differently or better? That’s an opportunity to enrich your board as well. I work in a really, this is Tara sefie. I’m hoping I’m pronouncing that right. I work at a really unique Childhood Development Center in DC. The long beautiful story since it was birthed from the working class community here. There are so many good stories. And depending on who the audience is, I could choose a completely different one. any guidance on who How to Choose stories, that ditto to what I said before, think about the person you’re talking to? And which story will resonate for them? I see your back. Are we out of time, George? should I should I?
Yeah, we have run a little bit over but people are still hanging out and listening. But we do have to be respectful of their time. And I know we didn’t get to all the questions. But that’s, we had a lot of great ones that you tried to get through. So good. Yeah, yeah. So we are finished for today. I do appreciate anybody who has stayed this long, and to listen to some of the answers that Joan had given you. And Joe, and thank you so much for spending time. With us today. We really appreciate it.
My pleasure. And I hope this was really hope this was helpful to people and got them thinking about, about storytelling it in a in a different way and see how central it is to your ability to build an army of people, because your amount of people you have is really
directly tied to how much power and impact you can have.
Yeah, I you had some great comments throughout the session that they were so excited to learn all of this. So I’m sure that there are many, many takeaways to this. So.
Okay, well, thank you again for joining us today. And there will be a recording that sent out to all registrants later this week. So keep an eye out for that. All right. So thank you again, and we’ll see you at our next webcast. All right. Thanks, everybody. Thanks for the work that you do. Take good care.