Mission Stories: Deep Listening

To survive we must tell stories.
— Umberto Eco

Nonprofit storytellers understand this better than anyone. Or do we? 

We know making an emotional connection with our donors and supporters is essential for success in raising awareness and funds for our missions.  At it's most basic we do that through telling stories. But many of us are increasingly uncomfortable with the influence of a formulaic and provocative "let me push your cry button" style of storytelling overtaking our communications. If we aren't very careful, stories from this perspective will cheapen our missions and even worse, degrade the folks we serve. 

Our clients, patients, students, pets are not red emotional push buttons. Stories from the folks who are the focus of our missions need to be recognized as a gift. It's a gift for which we need to be grateful. They are entrusting us to tell their experience in a way that honors them and the organization we serve. 

And how do we not get pulled into the siren call of "5 Ways to Make your Event Guests Cry and Open up Their Purses or Wallets?"  

First, we get there by truly listening. We breathe deeply. Quiet our minds. We begin by listening with an open heart in order to receive the fullness of the story.

Second, we allow ourselves, as storytellers, to be vulnerable. The degree to which we are honest with ourselves in our own lives directly impacts our ability to write authentically about the experiences of those impacted by our missions.

Third, we initally free-write the story without censoring or editing ourselves. When we start editing too quickly? That's when we are in danger of fitting the story into a predefined marketing formula. 

None of these suggestions really add much time to the process. Rather they point to the way we "show up" to the conversation with reverence and humility. Grounding ourselves and being intentional about how we approach those who are sharing their story is essential. In doing so I believe we honor our subjects and our readers.