Story-telling: A new approach or a timely reminder?
Have you noticed that every conference you go to, many blogs and lots of training courses are now heavily promoting ‘story-telling’? It’s the new buzz phrase that aims to get fundraisers to revisit the needs, programmes and visions of their organisations and, on that basis, we love it! The good old fundraising cycle starts from the need, but fundraisers seem reluctant to ‘go there’, relying on others to do the ‘translation’ and to tell them what the charity is all about, but the smart fundraiser knows this is more than just their responsibility, this is the ‘secret to their future success’.
It is interesting that many people talk and present story-telling as if it is a whole new approach or paradigm to messaging and connecting to donors. Yet, as we all know, it has been around as long as civilisation itself and is inbuilt into most human beings and the way they like to learn about new things, escape and understand complex messages. Aristotle decided that there were only four types of story: simple tragic, simple fortunate, complex tragic and complex fortunate. A simple yet challenging framework for a charity to consider how it presents its work in the form of memorable, creative stories that will touch people emotions, appeal to their logic and above all connect to their values; how would you present your charity in these four formats?
A recent study of Hollywood movies over the last fifty years managed to identify that all the hit movies over this period only shared twenty two story lines, hard to believe but true. They ranged from the predictable story lines like comedy/tragedy to ‘rags to riches’, ‘metamorphosis’, ‘wretched excess’, ‘fish out of water’ through to ‘temptation’.
In his book on story-telling, Andy Goodman sets out six organisational stories that everyone should be equipped to tell:
- The nature of the challenge
- How we got started
- Emblematic success (unique, the way we make a difference)
- Performance (stories about your results)
- Striving to improve (failing forward)
- Where we are going – the vision story
Again – painfully logical, but a great structure to use for training not only fundraisers but everyone in an organisation. Once people explore what these stories are they can make them unique through personal interest, bias, experience, knowledge, insight and creativity. Great story-telling pushes us to engage our imagination, not so much about the content but about the way we tell a story.
In a world where many accept that an active individual can be exposed to up to over a thousand messages a day, story-telling is going through a whole new renaissance in the not for profit sector, taking us back to the basics and helping us to move away from some of the ‘over engineering’ of messages that we have been guilty of over the last ten plus years. Donors don’t always want sophistication they want simplicity, authenticity and delight.