Sometimes We Forget the Basics

In working with entities that are trying to develop a long-term growth plan, I often ask what story they want to tell in 5 years (or 30, depending on the type of project). Sometimes I ask them to write the headline in their local paper in 2025, and at other times, I ask them to make a video. Not only does it help provide a vision for where they want to be, but it also gives me, and them, a good sense of the type of data that they need to collect and analyze to demonstrate success.

This week, I was reminded of the importance of storytelling, when a colleague reviewed a document on my behalf and said, “There’s no story here. What are you trying to say?” Doh. I forgot to follow my own advice.

And it’s worth pointing out that it’s not just about data. Anecdotal stories can be just as powerful – if not more powerful. But with all the emphasis on data these days (years? Decades?), it’s easy to forget that everything does not come down to quantitative statistics. This is why I think the recent article in Exponent Philanthropy, “Storytelling Mantras That Move Funders to Act: My Advice to Nonprofits” is important. One of the most important pieces of advice in the article – at least for someone like me – is to provide the needed context so that people “get” what you are trying to say. I have a tendency to say six words, and reflected in those six words are a couple of meaningful thoughts and/or considerations. I’ve had to work hard to ensure that I’m providing enough detail so that the other person doesn’t have to read my mind. But put me in front of a group, and I get nervous and forget a whole bunch of details! To avoid this, I practice my story 1-2 times before sharing it. Then the audience is “with me,” listening intently, and seeing themselves reflected in the journey.

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