“What motivates you?”
It was an icebreaker question, posed at a youth empowerment meeting I attended at Portland Empowered in Maine.
The answers ranged from the profound (positivity, hope, competition) to literal (family, religion, money) to even flippant (pizza, water, a nap).
When the wave of answers reached me, I came up with my own answer.
“Stories,” I said.
Stories are a powerful force that if harnessed correctly can help your nonprofit or company increase visibility, recruit new members, and raise funds. A good personal story can turn a dry event into one the media feels compelled to cover and make potential donors reach for their checkbooks. Stories are a currency you should be collecting on a regular basis and implementing in your media outreach and on your social media platforms.
Why do they work? You may have heard the quote: One death is a tragedy, one million deaths is a statistic. Stories, told through the eyes of one, make an issue feel personal. They elicit an emotional, empathetic response by compelling the reader to take a walk in someone else’s shoes. They are easier to remember than statistics because they make us feel rather than just think. If used properly, they can raise awareness, alter attitudes and change behavior.
What kind of stories should you be looking for?
- Stories about people who have been directly helped by your organization or company
- Stories about what motivates staff to embrace your mission
- Stories that put a human face on an issue that is at the heart of your organization
Sharing stories isn’t always easy. In obtaining stories, you are asking people to disclose intimate details about emotionally charged events in their personal lives that may be tough to discuss. You need to make sure that the subject of the story is comfortable with the process and aware of what it means to make the personal public.
Once you identify someone who is willing to share their story, do your homework. Pre-interviewing the person answers several important questions.
- Is their story compelling and relevant? If it’s not, don’t share it.
- Are they good at telling their story? If someone can’t express their story well, it may be better to share their story through a blog post, Facebook posting or tweet rather than offering them to the media as an interview source.
- Are there any red flags in their history? Make sure there are no personal or legal reasons why they can’t share their story. You don’t want to be surprised by information the media digs up.
Keep a running list of people whose stories showcase your organization or company well, an approved summary of their story, and their contact information so you can call them at a moment’s notice when the media call seeking an interview source.
Once you have this currency on hand, don’t be afraid to spend it. Your organization could truly benefit as a result.