The Human Storyline

Advancement professionals regularly are looking for ways to “better tell our institution’s story.”  I have written in the past about how better storytelling alone won’t lead to larger gifts.  Instead, I’ve suggested that the concept of story-listening is a much better way to go about attracting larger gifts.  It is the donor’s story that is the compelling drama to know and to tell.

However, there are times when we as institutions need to tell our story.  We need to talk about a new program.  We need to communicate the impact of our services.  We need to inspire, remind, and encourage others to participate in our work based on shared values.

How then, should we tell those stories?  I would submit that the telling of our stories should follow a narrative that is familiar and, that helps our readers (donors, prospects, and other important constituents) make sense of their lives.  Here is what I mean.  Think of your favorite book or favorite movie.  Chances are that the story-line goes something like this, “Humans are doing fine.  Something bad happens.  Humans struggle to overcome.  A hero of some sort, helps make everything better again.”

Most of my favorite movies follow this story-line.  Think of some popular movies or books throughout time:  Casablanca, Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Titanic, Rocky, The Firm.  They all follow this dramatic plot.  Cross-culturally adored fairy-tales follow this story-line as well.  The drama is about our human condition and most people resonate and understand this plot.  In fact, it is such a compelling way to tell a story, it is almost as if we are hard-wired as humans to gravitate towards it.

John Eldredge, in his book, “Epic,” speaks to our need as humans to hear this story-line over and over again.  We understand it.  We learn from it.  We teach from it.  And we make ourselves better because of it.  So, when you sit down to write that next story about your institution’s new program.  Or, the impact of your services.  Or the way in which you are living out your mission and vision.  Keep in mind that telling our story still isn’t about us.  We must communicate in ways that deeply touch our constituents.  And the very stories of popular culture that we resonate with give us a narrative to follow.

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