The Effect of Stories

Several years ago, I created a nonprofit to save women’s stories and the images they inspire. My goal was to get others to listen to women’s stories and look at images as a way to reveal that how a woman looks may not truly reveal the life she has lived.  I typically concluded my presentations by citing a Hopi Indian message:  “The one who tells the stories rules the world.”  If you expect to affect the world—even just one person at a time—you need to be sharing stories.  And your organization needs to share stories.  Stories and fundraising are natural partners for communication, connection, interaction and celebration.

I won’t go into the mechanics of good storytelling in this posting. There are many great sources.  A quick internet search for methods or books about storytelling will yield more information than you have time to read.  No matter which method you use, keep in mind the power of the story and align your approach with the power of storytelling.

E. M. Forster wrote Howard’s End. From the book comes this wonderful line: “Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height.” Shortly after I arrived at my last university, I used this quote to help my team understand how I viewed our communications—of all types—with donors, alumni and friends. Whether spoken or written, electronic or printed, we must always connect our words and passion to exalt them both. We must.  We are in a human business and the basis of all fulfillment is love.  The quote and two hands touching comprised the cover of the first fundraising piece I created there.

Passionately conveyed stories are insufficient unto themselves.  A colleague once told me with great pride that she could make people cry.  She was proud of being able to make them cry because it evoked gifts based on emotions. Gifts were raised but I am not convinced that true connections were made.  “Only connect!”

Fundraising concepts and mindsets become change agents for organizations, communities and the world.  Storytelling becomes a significant part of effecting change.  Don’t tell stories simply to fill silence; convey with a purpose.

Thomas Moore—the author, not the saint—wrote The Re-enchantment of Daily Life several years ago.  From the book comes our guide: “As a therapist, I have listened to many stories and believe that if a person can find a deeper story to tell, one less familiar and worn, less useful in maintaining the status quo, then something might happen that we call change.”

We are fundraisers. We work to make change possible.  Stories matter in what we do.

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