“The best story wins.”
That’s the title of a recent blog post by the Agitator’s Kevin Schulman. And we couldn’t agree with it more.
Storytelling seemed to be all the rage in the philanthropy world a few years ago but we hear less and less about it lately. That speaks more to the short attention span of the nonprofit industrial complex and less to the central importance of stories to ourselves and our fellow humans. That’s as important as ever.
We construct our reality in the form of narratives. Stories are so powerful that Daniel Kahneman found that people are likely to believe a well-crafted and relatable story no matter how outlandish or absurd. QAnon much?
Fundraising demands us to evoke empathy and concern for our cause. Effective altruism notwithstanding, our work is to engage hearts as well as brains. Story is the go-to tool for that.
Alia and I work with a number of state policy advocacy groups pressing for more kid-friendly laws and policies in their respective states. Often they express frustration that their messages can’t ‘compete’ with direct service providers like food banks or clinics. An evocative story is the playing field leveler. The groups who have invested in finding and sharing stories of kids affected by bad laws and policies are finding they can compete just fine.
This raises a lot of ‘buts’ in a lot of minds. Is that manipulative? Are you exploiting the people whose story you are telling? Are you contributing to a white savior narrative? Is your story ‘poverty porn?’ These are all fair questions and given the immense power of stories to sway human minds, are worthy of discussion. There is a dark side to storytelling, and that demands care and respect.
There are many things in our world that can kill or cure. Throwing out stories because of their dangers is like throwing out lifesaving medicines that produce rare bad side-effects.
But that’s a story for another time.