Not-for-profit’s have the gift of stories

Nancy Schwartz invited me to submit a piece for this week’s Carnival of Nonprofit Consultants theme on “How do Nonprofit Communicators Compete for Audiences’ Attention?”

So here goes…

Back in October, in my second post to this blog, I wrote about what I believe is our sector’s secret weapon: storytelling

Some fifteen years ago, I frequently travelled around the UK for Oxfam talking to often quite large groups of the charity’s dedicated supporters about ‘third world debt’ and ’structural adjustment’. Inevitably, I weaved in human stories from the ‘field’ to help illustrate the impact of these reforms on those living in poverty, the intended beneficiaries of Oxfam’s projects.

It seems that Michael Gilbert of Nonprofit Online News has a similar past. In his review of “Storytelling: Branding in Practice“, Michael says:

Back when I was a lobbyist for environmental and consumer organizations in the mid Eighties, I came to the conclusion that our cause had a secret weapon. We didn’t have the advantage of good ol’ boy webs of relationships with legislators. We certainly didn’t have the cash that built and sustained those relationships. But when the system worked and the fourth estate was functioning properly, we sometimes, just sometimes, had an amazing power on our side: the power of the true story.

Of course, we’re not talking about stories in a ‘newsworthy’ sense, but rather stories that remind your colleagues of the reasons they joined your organisation: passion for the cause.

In my last post, I went on a bit (too long?) about engagement. Now, I’ve always found it difficult to engage with a piece of direct mail, and this will only get more difficult with the trend towards a more visual culture. (But I’m looking forward to listening to and learning from Anna Crofton of Whitewater when I meet her on Wednesday.)

I’ve written previously about how Kresta King Cutcher has been posting powerful images from Rwanda to the Flickr photo-sharing community. And you could try weaving your Flickr photos into a storyboard.

For a primer on digital storytelling, you can do no better than read J.D. Lasica’s 10 Easy Steps tutorial.

When all the ingredients are in place, you get something like this:

  • The Water Buffalo Movie by Robert Thompson

A plea: make a little time (8 minutes to be precise) to watch this inspiring story about a water buffalo donated to the Su family in China (thanks to Carnet for the tip).

It moved me to tears.

I can imagine empowering the entrepreneurs on Kiva to tell their own stories in a similar way.

By the way, I learned from these guys that this week is National Storytelling Week here in the UK. Good timing, eh?

Update: after posting this in a bit of a hurry, I’ve since noticed that Robert has a whole page dedicated to the water buffalo story. He’ll revisit the Su family in March to do a follow-up interview.