The Power of Nonprofit Storytelling

Posted on October 3, 2011. Filed under: Storytelling | Tags: , , |

I found this article by Wilton Blake and it’s a goodie (although I haven’t quite worked out the significance of the Star Wars Leggo image yet -I guess it’s a reference to the “Tens of thousands of years of tales being told by firelight”…?). 

Whilst researching Blake’s Blog page, I found another article I found interesting in which Jacqui Banaszynski is quoted as saying: 

“Certain tools work better for some things than others: audio (the human voice) is intimate; still photos freeze a moment and capture time; video allows action to play out; text (good old print) is best for complexity and connections and depth.

But the underlying elements of good storytelling are eternal:

  • Find the humanity at the center of a situation.·
  • Look for the universal theme or meaning in individual situations.·
  • Be as specific and vivid as possible.·
  • And sometimes tell. Put stories in context so readers know what world they come from, time they live in, situation they are related to.”

I think that’s very good advice…

Kathie van

The Power of Nonprofit Storytelling

The power of nonprofit storytelling

Why is storytelling so powerful?

We all tell stories. It’s one of the most natural ways to communicate. The power of storytelling is unmatched. And there are several proven reasons for that.

Storytelling is in our nature

The oral tradition of storytelling is one of the oldest and most powerful teaching and learning methods we have. It is the way human beings have communicated information since before written language.

Tens of thousands of years of tales being told by firelight. Thousands of years of written stories. Hundreds of years of stories performed in the theater. A hundred years of stories on the silver screen. Decades of stories broadcast over the airwaves.

Through generation after generation, our brains have evolved to look for the familiar patterns of stories.

Storytelling transfers knowledge

The storyteller is still the best teacher. Stories transfer unquantifiable elements of knowledge, the most important element being experience. When we hear stories we absorb second-hand information and it becomes first-hand perception. We learn from each other through stories.

Stories help us remember

Because our brains are structured around stories, its easier for us to remember facts if they are wrapped in a story. In Tell Me a Story: Narrative and Intelligence (Rethinking Theory), Roger Schank concluded that human memory is story-based. He also advocates for a story-centered curriculum.

And there have been many research studies that show that stories are fundamental to how we learn, organize, and recall what we know.

Stories unite meaning and emotion

Life situations, in the moment, are typically either intellectual or emotional. As time passes, we may feel this way or that about an intellectual situation. And we may intellectualize an emotional situation. But stories blend the intellectual with the emotional, in the moment.

Stories give an emotional charge to ideas. And when that idea is charged with emotion, it becomes powerful, profound, and memorable. Robert McKee put it perfectly in his screenwriting book Story when he wrote:

“. . . a story well told gives you the very thing you cannot get from life: meaningful emotional experience.”

When we hear stories, we are moved. Sometimes moved to tears. Other times moved into action.

The right story motivates greater giving

People tend to give more to one clearly identifiable victim than to a large group of similarly suffering people. People also respond greater to victims of loss than to victims of chronic conditions. See the Sympathy and Giving section on my Nonprofit Storytelling Resources page for links to these studies.

Stories are your best tool

Again, I can’t say it better than Robert McKee:

“A story becomes a kind of living philosophy that the audience members grasp as a whole, in a flash, without conscious thought—a perception married to their life experences.”

So it is through storytelling that you can best communicate your organization’s mission, successes, and future. It is through storytelling that you can activate donors, win grants, rally supporters, motivate staff and volunteers, and ensure your sustainability.

Author: Wilton Blake


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