Storytelling is essential to fundraising. By telling stories, we are clearly showing donors their impact and connect them to the work that they make possible. But there is one important story that we are forgetting to tell – our personal story.
The story of you is a powerful story about why you do the work you do, the values that drive your work and the passion you have for the cause. This story is a tool that you can use when building rapport with donors. But the more important use of the story is that it helps you connect and engage more with you work.
During this webinar with Vanessa Chase you’ll learn a self-reflective process for creating your story of you and tips for sharing your personal story.
Additional Materials for The Story of You
Download the audio: The Story of You (mp3)
Download the slides: The Story of You (pdf)
The link to the Pencils of Promise page is: https://pencilsofpromise.org/about/founders-story/
The Transcript for The Story of You
Marc: Well, welcome everyone to this month's Nonprofit Academy NPA Presents. I am so thrilled that you're here. We have a real treat with us with Vanessa Chase joining us to talk to us about storytelling. Hi, Vanessa.
Vanessa: Hi, Marc.
Marc: For those of you who are new to the Academy, keep having new people come. It's so exciting to see. You should have a control panel. It's usually on the left or the right of your screen. There's an orange button if you don't see it, just click on that and it'll slide it out. There's a questions box and a chat box there. Use whichever you want. I'll be monitoring those to see questions as things come up throughout the session.
I know for some of you you want to know that there are questions that will be in the slides. So it will be helpful to find that question or chat area on your control panel so you can answer. You can also use the hashtag #NPAPresents. I'll be monitoring that on Twitter now and in the future. So whenever you're watching this, feel free to tweet with #NPAPresents and we will make sure that we respond appropriately.
But without further ado, our presenter today is Vanessa Chase. Could you kick to the next slide, Vanessa?
Marc: Yay, thanks. Vanessa Chase Lockshin, as a matter of fact. Vanessa is, I guess we've known each other and interacted with each other through different things for a few years. You've got to go to her website. It's TheStorytellingNonprofit.com. She's got a great blog that I regularly check in with and she's also got a free e-course on storytelling that you can sign up for.
We've just done different things over the years. You guys may remember her from the Stewardship School tutoring hour that we did previously. It's somewhere in the vault for the Nonprofit Academy. There's one story, and I think she'll be telling it a little bit later today, that has transformed some of the ways that I teach or I incorporate it into my nonprofit storytelling teaching she shared with us at the nonprofit storytelling conference, which happened last November in Seattle, will happen again this November.
And I don't normally do this, but this week is the week where the early bird deadline...if you're listening to this live, you can save $500 by getting your ticket before Friday. Yeah. I'll tweet about that. You'll get it in your inbox.
But Vanessa has this really unique perspective in storytelling and the importance of storytelling that, like I said, profoundly shaped the way I teach. And I wanted to make sure to get her style and her approach to you guys to help you as you're doing your end communications and your regular marketing and nonprofit communications.
With that, I'm so thrilled because I haven't heard anybody really talk about the most important fundraising story being your own fundraising story. So this has potential to not only impact you and your staff, but also your boards, your EDs, everybody else you interact with.
I've taken up a lot of time already. So Vanessa, take it away. I'm so glad you're here.
Vanessa: Well, thanks. Yeah. Me too, Marc. Thank you so much for the introduction. Welcome to everybody who's on the webinar today with us. As Marc mentioned, my name is Vanessa Chase Lockshin. I have been really looking forward to this webinar all week.
Vanessa: It's a topic that's kind of near and dear to my heart. I do a lot of storytelling and fundraising with nonprofit organizations, but one of the things that I really like to do is work with fundraisers around their personal stories. By personal story I mean why they care about the cause and why they're involved with it.
I think it's such an important and really interesting story that we are not often talking about or even thinking about in our day to day work. So I'm really excited to talk a little bit more about why that story is so important and also how you can start to go through a bit of a self-reflective process to think about your own stories.
So I want to start us off with a question here, which is why do you work for the organization that you work for? Why did you choose that organization and how did you end up there? So I'll give everyone a second to think about that. As Marc said, you can also share your answers in the questions box or in the chat box, we'd love to hear from you.
Marc, what was the last organization that you worked for before you started doing your consulting work?
Marc: Wow, wow… It shouldn't have been that long ago. It was a political campaign. Did you hear me the whole time? It said it was connecting to audio. Did you hear me there?
Vanessa: No, no quite. I heard the, "It was a political campaign," part.
Marc: Oh, okay. Cool. Yeah. It looks like there was a hiccup in our Internet. Sorry. So it was hard to figure out because the last one was a political campaign that I was working for. And I left my job at a hospital to do that. It was a whole mix. Both of them were a mix. The hospital job, honestly, I was pastoring a church and my wife said, "We need to have a steady paycheck to support the pastoring habit." Which was brilliant. And then I fell in love with the healthcare approach that this hospital had in our community.
The political campaign was because it was a person that I believed in and had seen come really close to being a governor four years before and was just honored beyond words when his campaign approached me to manage it. I had not ever seen myself...that's not true. I liked the politics game. I just don't like who I become when do the politics game.
Vanessa: Those are both really good examples then. I think what you touched on there with your story about politics, that greater need to be involved and having a real personal desire to want to support somebody is a really good reason why you do the work you do and I think the beginning of a really great personal story about that, right?
Marc: Yeah. That's a really good point. I know there are some people on the call. Feel free to type in and answer any questions or that chat. I know that in the Academy we have people that have just gotten it for a job or they stumbled into...they were looking for something that was steady and they stumbled into fundraising. There are other people who are deeply moved by a personal...either they've lived in the communities that they are now working in and they want to make them better or they have been personally touched by tragedy and they want to make it right.
I was talking to somebody a couple weeks ago. There was a cancer-related issue. This person had that and then found somebody else whose loved one actually died because of it and they were doing fundraising on that behalf. So there are a lot of difference reasons.
Vanessa: Yeah. I would say lots of really good reasons behind why people do the work they do. We'll talk about those a little bit more. So thanks, Marc for sharing your story. For those of you who are listening in, this is such a great question to think about. If you're taking some notes, it's definitely one that's worth writing down to think about and even a great question to bring to your next team meeting or staff meeting to talk about as a group as well. It's a really good team building question.
Let's talk a little bit more about what you're going to learn today. There are a few things we're going to talk about. First, I want to talk about the role that your personal story plays in fundraising work. We'll look a little bit more at the intersection of fundraising and storytelling and why that's such an important intersection of things. We're going to talk about why a personal story can be so powerful to share and why it's possibly the best story to share with donors.
I'll give you a couple of examples of personal stories because as Marc mentioned a few minutes ago as well. There is a whole spectrum of types of stories that people may have. It could be one that's born out of tragedy. It could be one born out of passion. It may be one you haven't discovered yet. So I want to talk about some different examples to give you an idea of what those look like. And then I'll give you some tips and a process for thinking about how actually create and share your personal story as well.
So Marc already mentioned a little bit about me. So I won't spend too much time on this.
Marc: Oh, that's right. We're going to be at BB Con together too.
Vanessa: We are.
Marc: We're going to be at BB Con in Austin together. That's cool. Yay.
Vanessa: We're hitting the road.
Marc: That's right.
Vanessa: Yeah. I've worked as a fundraiser for a number of years now. But these days, my work is kind of at an interesting intersection of fundraising and communications, specifically I'm really interested in looking at how narrative influences people's decision making and also relationship building as well, which is how storytelling came into my world and a lot of the work that I now do with nonprofits.
That's enough about me. We can go on for a long time about that and I'll share a few more stories about me. But another question for you, which is what is the basis of a person's decision to make a philanthropic gift? For some of you who are on the call who may be newer to fundraising, maybe you're not totally sure about this, but I'm sure there are a couple of you who have an idea of what this might be. Again, you can share your answer in the chat box or in the questions box.
Marc: So somebody is saying that the basis of a decision is...I cringe and I'm sorry that I say I cringe, but overhead, how much goes to program. I know. But I understand where that's coming from even though...okay.
Vanessa: Yes. I can understand that too. I think that can certainly be a surface reason. I think probably the best way to explain this is there are often layers to our decision making, right? On the surface, that might be the initial reason we give, but when we dig down a little bit deeper, there are often other reasons or other factors that are influencing that being the reason why somebody would make their giving choice.
Marc: Somebody, Mark [SP] is saying how it relates to the community is the reason someone makes a philanthropic gift. I like that.
Vanessa: Yeah, that connection is important. Absolutely. All right. Good suggestions. I want to talk a little bit more about this as well, just to kind of give some perspective on this.
So I'm sure a lot of you are familiar with the Greek root of the word "philanthropy," meaning love for humanity. I always like to come back to this because I think that one of the interesting things about it is that it suggests that we engage in philanthropy really out of a desire to help and care for others.
But if we go that layer deeper as we said earlier, what's at the basis of that are our values and our beliefs. Oftentimes, that's where our decisions come from. I would suggest that our philanthropic decisions are often very deeply rooted in our values and beliefs. We may believe that supporting the community is important. We may believe that supporting a particular cause matters to us. We may have certain political beliefs that influence work that we might do in politics or in that area.
So there are a lot of ways that our values or beliefs are kind of at play in fundraising and in philanthropy. Oftentimes, I don't think that we think enough as fundraisers about how values are influencing our donors. I really think one of the reasons I like to think about this is because values really inspire the actions people are taking.
I really think that values are kind of the key to philanthropy. I would submit that in the fundraising process as we're cultivating people, stewarding them, soliciting them for a gift, it's really a process of helping donors see how their values align with an organization, which is kind of an interesting way of thinking about it, right?
The other thing to consider here is what ultimately catalyzes that action. Once we get people seeing their values align with us, how do we then spur them to saying, "Oh, that person is like me or that organization is like my family," how do they then go from that realization to taking action?
Well, I think there's another piece to that puzzle, which is that values inspire action through emotion. I think this is where stories come into play for a lot of reasons. Stories are a great way to illustrate the values of an organization, of a person, of a cause for a number of reasons. I think one of the things that stories often do best is really show those values in action.
So when we are abiding by the key values that we hold as an organization or as a movement, we are then showing how those values come into play through the work that we do, through the programs we offer and so on.
Pretty naturally in storytelling there's often an emotional element where people get excited or they get really outraged about something or they get really fired up to do something about a particular issue. It's often, I think, because they suddenly had that synchronicity of their values aligning with what's happening in the community and seeing they can be a part of making a difference.
So kind of an interesting intercept that's going on intersection there between values, action, philanthropy and stories. I wanted to kind of start off with this because I think there's still this kind of idea about values and storytelling will really ground us in a lot of what we're going to talk about here this morning.
So another question for you all. There we go. Can you think of a time where a donor that you've worked with was inspired by values? Maybe you met face to face and you had a conversation about a life experience they've had that's informed their world views or perhaps you talked to a donor during a stewardship call which will be a little bit more about what's important to them in terms of their value in the world and how they make a difference. If you'd like, we'd really love for you to share your stories as well. You're welcome to share those in the chat box or the questions box as well, right, Marc?
Marc: Yeah, people are using the questions too. Yeah.
Vanessa: Okay. Great.
Marc: What was the story that you have about a donor being inspired by their values? For me, because I focus so much on major gifts because that seems to be translatable to other forms of fundraising, but the biggest bang for the buck is in the major gift. I've never...in fact, the title of my book from 2008 was "Ask Without Fear: Connecting with Donors with what Matters to them Most."
It's always been about the values of the donor, even at the expense of leaving out what I would think is important information, like our statistics and whatever the center of my universe is is obviously important, but not as important to the donor.
Vanessa: Yeah. I think one of the interesting things is we often don't use the word "values" to describe the types of conversations that we're having with donors. We often say we had a conversation about what their priorities are or what they cared about. So those are really conversations disguised as conversations about values.
Marc: That's really interesting. That's a good point. Yeah.
Vanessa: It's just another way to think about it.
Marc: I'm sorry, Vanessa. We had somebody else. Mark came in and said there was a donor, his family was impacted by tragedy with the storm drains. There was a donor that was impressed by how our family handled the situation in helping rather than suing for gain and they gave because of our intention and willingness to help others. He's starting a movement to make it so the storm drains are safe so other people don't lose their children to them. Wow. Thanks for being that vulnerable.
Vanessa: That's a terrific example.
Vanessa: Yeah. That's a great example. I'm really glad that he was able to share that with us. Thank you. So great example. As Marc said, it's often about figuring out what matters most to donors. Right? So we're taking the time in cultivation, whether it's a major gift or during an annual gift or something else. We are taking the time to get to know them, to cultivate those relationships and to understand them a little bit more as a group.
Even though we may not intentionally understand it as kind of communicating values and trying to understand somebody else's values about that world, that's kind of what we're doing in a nutshell. I think it's good to kind of, as you're working with donors, and going through the fundraising process, think of a little bit more about what conversations have you had with somebody that may indicate a value they have. What did they explicitly say was the value but insinuates or correlates with some greater values that a lot of other people hold or that your organization holds.
Marc: That's good.
Vanessa: So let's talk a little more about stories, though, and how they intersect with values. I'm sure as a lot of you know, there are tons of stories that we can tell that communicate values, right? We can talk about how stories have changed, how we're changing the community. We can talk about stories of impact, how a donor's made a difference. We can talk about our organization's vision and where we think we're going.
We can also tell stories about our founding. There's really a whole plethora of things that we can tell donors about, but in delivering these and other stories, we, as the fundraisers, often take ourselves out of the picture. We kind of understand ourselves as merely the messengers. We are the person who works for the organization and we're there to do the organization's work to have conversations about how donors can help. We kind of remove ourselves a little bit.
We, in some cases, may not talk about ourselves as much. We just focus on talking about the organization we work for and the great work it's doing and that sort of thing. But I think that's kind of to our detriment because we're people and we have stories to tell and we have lots of great things to add to the conversation about why we're doing this work and why it's important to us personally that can really enhance that overall cultivation process that we have with donors.
So a couple of reasons why I think it's so important for us to put ourselves back into the picture, as counterintuitive as that may seem, and think about why we can share our stories. So there are a few reasons why our story is important. So first of all, you are a person, right? You have incredible life experiences, been through a lot. You may be a parent. You may be all sorts of other roles in your life that have greatly influenced the person you are and possibly the work that you do now as a fundraising professional. I think at the basis of all of this though is other people are influenced by people, right?
So as much as you think that when you're having that conversation with a donor they'll be influenced by statistics and the case you're building for why a project or program is so important for them to donate to, I would suggest that they will be more influenced by you and the relationship they personally have with you as well. That can include the stories that you tell them, and especially the story about yourself.
I would say that you have the ability to connect and really influence people. This is a really great gift that we all have as a fundraiser to be able to connect people to these great opportunities, to inspire them so they can do in the world by making a gift. I think if we do have personal stories to share about our work, about our involvement in the cause, even something else possibly not as related to the organization but still correlated to it in some way, those stories are all very beneficial for us to be able to share for people.
But the thing I often come across when I talk to people about how they can share their personal stories as fundraising professionals is that I hear things like, "I don't have a good story to tell," "Nobody wants to hear my stories," "They'd rather hear about the people who are helping," lots of things like that, right? I'm sure some of you who are on the line today might be thinking, "I took a job at this organization, I really like it a lot, I'm passionate about it, but I don't know if I necessarily have a good story to tell or even one that's worthwhile."
But what I want to suggest to you is that you have a story worth sharing. This sentence really fundamentally changed my life a number of years ago when I was working as a major gift officer, realizing that my role in philanthropy and fundraising was to also share my own stories and to not only be a messenger for the organization, but also to be a connector on a much more personal level.
Marc: That's interesting because what you said on the last bullet on the slide before about how you have the ability to connect and influence and the next step I was thinking was you have the responsibility to connect and influence because as a fundraiser, you're supposed to raise funds. So it doesn't matter if you feel uncomfortable about putting yourself in the way. That's part of your job. But it's part of the gift of your job too. You get to do this. This is great follow up to that. Thank you. That's good.
Vanessa: Yeah. Absolutely. Yeah. I think one of the things that it's important to think about, I would suggest a totally other type of storytelling, but when you're considering what you're going to say to a donor at a meeting or whether or not it's a good idea to talk about a personal anecdote, some of the things that come up oftentimes are these stories that we tell ourselves, that we have a rumbling around in our mind that tell us our stories aren't good. We don't have enough worthwhile to add to the conversation. We maybe don't necessarily have a good connection to the organization. It's a job. We like fundraising, we took it, that sort of thing.
Those stories can be really counterproductive to our fundraising roles. One story that I shared last year at the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference, I think this is the one you were referencing, Marc, a number of years ago I worked at Union Gospel Mission in Vancouver. I had started going there after having worked at a university that I attended and I loved working there. I loved working with the other alumni and I had a really experience at the university and a really good reason to do things for them.
And when I left to go to Union Gospel Mission, my motivations for being there were primarily that I wanted to do more community-based work and helping people who were living in poverty or struggling through addiction, which were certainly great reasons for being there.
But during my first few months of working there, I had a lot of roadblocks that came up for me in talking to donors about the work. I felt like I didn't really have a right or a good reason to be sharing other people's stories, let alone have a story of my own to talk about that was anywhere near as fraught with conflict or trouble as a lot of the people that we were helping. So I had this story in my head that I told myself for many months when I first started there that I had no business telling other people's stories and I really shouldn't have been working there.
I only thought that because I had not been a client of Union Gospel Mission. I had not experienced extreme poverty. I had not had an addiction. I wasn't homeless. I felt like because I had never experienced those things, I wasn't worthy of being there or being a part of that organization.
It took me several months and one very poignant experience with one of our clients to realize that was not the case. I had a very compelling personal reason for being there. It happened maybe four months or so after I had started working there. I was walking down the street back to my office and a woman stopped me on the street corner and asked me if I had any money or change to spare. I said no. My purse was back at my desk.
She grabbed my forearm and she looked at me so squarely in the eye and said, "Please, I will do anything for money." It was one of those really, really heartbreaking moments for me where I realized that the reason I was there doing the work I was doing was to help women like her to be able to find a stable job or stable housing and to get the kind of help they needed to live a better life.
That was my big personal why from that day forward. I was fundraising for that woman. She was one of the few women--one of many, really--that I met when I was working there, but she was always the one that stuck out to me whenever I talk to donors and talk to them about a lot of the hopelessness that people were experiencing in that particular neighborhood in Vancouver.
It was something that really transformed my ability to fundraise for that organization. I suddenly felt like I was a lot more in my power because I not only was worthy of being there, but I also had a story worthy sharing that other people would want to hear about. They would to know about that encounter and know about why I was there fundraising for the organization.
So I'm pretty sure that was the one you were talking about.
Marc: No, it's not. But that was a powerful one.
Vanessa: No? A different one?
Marc: Yeah. You'll get to it later.
Vanessa: A different one? Okay.
Marc: But that is really interesting. Because you think about the poverty, particularly the human service organizations. There was a homeless shelter I was serving with. There are a lot of reasons the fundraising was hampered by the people and the systems and all. But I think you hit on a big part of it. I've never been there and for the staff there, there was a sense of we don't interact with the people we serve.
We go straight to the other office level, not to the homeless shelter itself. Yeah, it was really interesting about how we're kind of scared. Part of it was there were not safe people there. The people were dealing with a lot of stuff. That's really interesting to have that localized on one person. Who's the one person we're fundraising for? That's really smart.
Vanessa: I think there are a lot of different ways that people who work in social service manage their feelings or their own story about the work. That was something that worked very well for me. But I think it was part of this bigger realization that it's important to understand you have a reason to be there and knowing that reason and that story can be really powerful because it gives you a way to connect with other people to have a better reason than saying, "Oh, I like fundraising. It's what I do professionally. You can talk about there's bigger reasons I'm there.
Marc: That's not very relatable. There are so few of us that actually do love it.
Vanessa: I know, right? So I want to give you a couple of other examples of stories. I'll start with one of my own, actually. I'm board chair of an organization in Vancouver WAVAW Rape Crisis Center, which stands for Women Against Violence Against Women. I've been with them for almost five years now. I love working with them. They're a really wonderful organization.
We have a lot of women at our organization who have very powerful personal stories about why they're there. Somebody they know who have been affected by violence or personal experience with it as well, which is what brought me the WAVAW originally as a board member. I had been sexually assaulted in college. I wanted to be an advocate in the community and use my fundraising skills for good.
I had been there for probably about two years on the board before I actually told anybody that that was why I was there or told a donor when I was out at a meeting. I often would say things like, "I wanted to give back to the community to help a cause I care about," but I didn't want to talk about my personal story and my own experience for a number of reasons. Part of it was that it was a fairly private thing, so I didn't necessarily want to share the details with everybody.
But I also found that by not sharing it, I had a lot of interesting experiences. I knew I wasn't being as genuine as I could be with people or sincere about why I was there. I kind of always felt this weird disconnect in conversations that I had with donors. They would ask me why I decided to join the board. I would give them a myriad of good reasons. But it wasn't the real reason. It wasn't the real truth of why I was there.
So as I started to get more comfortable that sharing my own story could be okay in the right context with a fair amount of discretion, I had really positive, really connecting experiences with donors, many of which I still have good relationships with now, several years later.
And a lot of that has led to significant financial contributions, but it's also for me been a very cathartic and interesting experience of learning that when we do tell our truth and speak our truth about what we're doing or anything related to our lives, we have this kind of opening, a vulnerability where we can really connect with, where we show up and they show up and they can really see who we are underneath all the other layers of things going on around us.
Similarly to that story, our executive director at WAVAW who's been there for like 11 years ago now, she's fabulous. She's been there for a very long time. I had worked with her for probably three years before I knew why she was really there. We were talking about our year-end appeal a couple of years ago. We were figuring out what story we were going to tell this year, who we're going to talk about. In Canada, one of the significant national days of remembrance is December 6th, which is the National Day of Remembrance in support of...I can't remember the full acronym now. But it's the national day of action or women's rights, basically.
It specifically is tied back to an event that occurred on December 6th, 1989, when a man went into an engineering classroom in a university in Quebec. And he had all the women line up and there were 22 of them and he shot all of them just because they were women. Our executive director was going to the university basically next door to this one. She remembered that event. She remembered thinking they were killed just before we were women. We ended up using that story in that appeal that year.
It was incredibly powerful because so many of our donors knew our ED very well, but they didn't really know about her personal experience in college of having been there at this incredible tragedy that happened and really understanding that very defining moment for her, that was a very defining moment for her in her life, to be able to stand up in support of women's rights and to be able to continue to do that work in the capacities that she does it at WAVAW. So it was a really wonderful story to share.
I think that as I shared more of my story at the organization, as the executive director has talked more, there's been this really wonderful connectedness that's happened between staff and volunteers and donors where people are becoming more open to sharing these stories and there's been this incredible sense of community and team building that's happened around that, which has been I think really powerful for all of us for a number of reasons. I think it's good for organizational culture, but it's also good for things like philanthropic relationships and broader community building and awareness about a particular issue.
Marc: I've been doing some research on influence over the years and I even was just talking, there was something...I can't remember what, conversational intelligence or something that I was watching a video on earlier this week and it was all about this.
Part of the way we are wired as human beings to grow in relationship is to be vulnerable with each other. It's usually social acceptable to be a little bit slow in that process, not to just be wearing your heart on your sleeve, falling apart all over the place, but being vulnerable, taking a risk, asking questions you don't know that answer to.
That's just normal human relationships, but we forget that in fundraising. We think we have to have all the answers. We feel like we have to ask questions, only questions we know answers to and then we do this that really annoying shaking the head, looking like a know-it-all and the donor gets the sense, "Well, they don't even need me here. Why am I even in this relationship?"
Marc: So the other thing that by starting to share personal stories is the bonding that goes on within a team, that's so orienting and that's just powerful. I can feel a shift in the way you were talking inside myself. I don't know if it was my body chemistry. I don't know what the neurology behind it was but it was really cool. You could almost feel the relationships getting more authentic and, ironically, efficient because you're able to be motivated out of passion more than out of duty or whatever else you thought you might've had to be motivated out of. That's really cool.
Vanessa: Yeah, absolutely. No, that's a great point, Marc.
Marc: Scary though. Is it always scary to tell your personal story? Is there always a level of risk or does it depend on what your personal story is?
Vanessa: It certainly can be. I was actually going to flip to the next slide and talk about sharing personal stories. You're right on top of it. So there have been a couple lessons learned. I would say that, I should have said this before I shared my own story, my connection to WAVAW and the reason why I fundraise for that organization is pretty deeply personal and it's out of a tragedy and something really terrible that happened to me a number of years ago.
But I would say that not every story needs to be like that. Not every story has to be born out of tragedy or some terrible thing that happened to you personally or to a family member. That's not the basis for a good story. A good story is authentic and it's about having that connection and passion for what's going on there. So having shared that with you, don't feel like if you don't have a story that's deeply fraught like that that it's not worth sharing and not a good story. In fact, I'll share some other ones here in a few minutes that will hopefully give you other ideas as well.
Marc: No, that's a really, really important thing to underscore because even when I...my faith is Christian and I became a Christian in my teenage years. When I went to a Christian college, my roommate said, "You're a convert?" He had grown up with this whole undermining of faith because all that was celebrated in that faith tradition he was brought up was people converting and it was predicated on having a bad life and getting giving up that bad life.
He had never had a bad life, so he thought he was a second class follower because he didn't have that bad story, which just makes you want to go out and have a bad story so you could have a good story. So it's so good to know that it doesn't have to be...you don't have to create tragedy or seek it. Your personal story is worth sharing anyway, going back to that slide a few slides ago. You have a story worth sharing.
Vanessa: Absolutely. I think that's a good point, Marc. Yeah. So a couple of things that I've learned from sharing my story at WAVAW to other stories that I've worked on personally, I think one of the important things is to find your edge and kind of explore it. So there will always be something edgy or pointed about wanting to share a personal story with somebody else, regardless of what emotional experience you had there.
I would really encourage you to think about what is your edge, what is your boundary and ability to share that story. There may be some details that you're comfortable sharing and some that you're not and that's fine. But it's good to think about where those boundaries are and think about can you push that, where you want to recoil a little bit and how might that play out in you telling that story to other people?
So the other thing I would say is that it does take time sometimes to feel comfortable sharing your personal story. I think you can in some ways expedite it a little bit. That's really by practicing and thinking about it and engaging with it more yourself before you share it with other people. As I said, with my work at WAVAW, it took me a good two years before I actually shared that with anyone. That was fine. I worked through that on my own time.
But there have been other instances and other stories in my life that I shared much more quickly and that's because I've been a little more engaged in thinking about it, journaling about it, talking to people about it, and that's helped me become more comfortable with being able to share that with people who I may not necessarily know as well, like a donor, for instance.
The other thing I would ask here, and I think this is a really important point, tell the right story to the right audience.
Marc: That's great.
Vanessa: So my story and my personal experience at WAVAW is not something I would share with every donor, let alone every person I meet. Its' something that I share pretty discretionary, in a discretionary way when I feel like there's kind of a sense of trust and respect and understanding in that relationship. Sometimes that might be on a first meeting with them. Sometimes it might be two or three meetings in when we've gotten to know each other better. That's also okay.
I think it's important to keep in mind who your audience is, who you're talking to and those conversations, trying to get a feel if they are the right person to hear that story, if they'll respect it and understand it or if they're going to somehow have a bad reaction to it, which is never a great thing to experience. So that's just an important thing to keep in mind as well.
The last one of that I would say is that the stories that you will tell best as a fundraiser are the ones that you have a connection to. As I said earlier, there are tons of stories that we can tell in our work about our organization, about people we're helping, and you will probably be telling those to people. But the ones that you will tell best about the ones that are easiest to connect with that are often the most compelling are probably going to be the ones you have the most involvement with or connection to, at least in my experience.
Sometimes that does mean getting a little outside of your comfort zone and getting more comfortable talking about yourself and your relationship with the cause and with the organization. I think that act of vulnerability can be so rewarding and so worthwhile to have those conversations and connections with people when they are able to hear that story and really be inspired by it and feel more constituted [SP] to the work you're a part of.
So I'm going to share with you a couple of examples of other personal stories of organizations that I am not involved in. The first one is from Pencils of Promise, which I'm sure a lot of you have heard of. It's a fairly large organization in the US. Their founder, Adam Braun, has a really interesting personal story about why he started the organization.
As it says here on the page, this is from their about page on their website, "It began with a question," a small boy begging on the streets of India, he asked, "What do you want most in the world?" And the boy replied, "A pencil." He reached into his backpack, handed him the pencil and watched a wave of possibility wash over him.
So this is kind of his own personal story about why he started this organization, Pencils of Promise. It started with a pencil, unsurprisingly. But it's really an interesting story about a personal interaction he had with somebody that shifted his perspective on what could be possible in the world or what could be possible in terms of education or helping people or the type of help that people really need, needing tools, needing a pencil to be able to do work or be part of the education system.
So the story is fairly long and I would certainly encourage you to take a look at it. I think founders' stories are often interesting. In the nonprofit sector, I feel like the founders of organizations that have really interesting and very widely publicized stories are often kind of held up as these kinds of mythological stories of epic proportions, right? But I would encourage you to not think that those are the only good stories that needs to be told or the ones of your founder or some connection to the organization.
I wanted to show you this story because of what it was inspired by and how it's presented on the site. So I would certainly encourage you to check this out.
Marc: I'll put a link to that on the page too in the vault so everybody that's listening can find it. Yeah.
Vanessa: Great. Yeah. And the other one I just wanted to share. This one is for Dress for Success, which I'm sure a lot of you are familiar with as well. It's been around for a number of years. On their history page, they have a different type of story about their founder, Nancy Lublin, who started Dress for Success with a $5,000 inheritance that she had received from her great grandfather and talked a little bit about why she decided to turn that gift into an organization and how she went about it.
Now, I would say having looked at both of those stories, and these are both presented on websites about an organization, they're pretty different, right, in terms of their presentation and their delivery. I would ask you to think about this question, though. Which of those two examples, of Pencils of Promise or Dress for Success do you find more compelling or maybe you find them equally compelling?
Marc: Feel free to use the chat for any questions to...yeah.
Vanessa: We'll give everyone a second to think about that. Yeah.
Marc: Pencils or inheritance?
Vanessa: Which do you find more compelling, Marc?
Marc: Gosh, I feel like I overthink this. I think if I'm talking from a stage, I think I could tell the pencil story better and I think it's because it's got the other world element and the simple promise. I think people can relate to a pencil. I don't think people can relate to the inheritance or the selflessness of not getting a MacBook Pro or something with that $5,000.
Marc: But moving on on the dresses, I know the importance of people that have been victims of domestic violence and others, people that haven't had examples of appropriate dress for different situations. So I can see how that...I guess it's the right story to the right audience.
What I love about that story is holy cow, is that great for fundraising? All of a sudden, you're not asking people to do anything that the founder hasn't done. Would you give a portion of your inheritance? Would you match the founder's...we have the founder's fund. Would you match her? Yeah. Holy cow, my brain is going nuts with all the different ability.
So some of the comments that are coming in on the chat, they're both great stories. I agree that they are probably good for different reasons. I feel like I'm chickening out on the answer.
Vanessa: Oh, that's okay.
Marc: What about you?
Vanessa: I should say there's no right answer here, certainly. I think it's just good to think about there are lots of different ways to tell stories. In the example of the Pencils of Promise one, it's very narrative-focused in terms of actually having dialogue, recalling the very clear moment, really getting you into that setting, whereas Dress for Success is much more, I would say, traditional, a little less narrative-based. Even though there is a story being told there, it's not quite as engaging in terms of how it's presented. But I think it still does make for an interesting story about how the organization got started.
Marc: Ah, you know what I think it is in part? It could be the hero. So for the pencil, the kid is the hero, the kid who wants the pencil. You're just seeing it through the eyes of the pencil giver. For the history story, the hero is the founder, at least the way we saw it on that little clip. That makes the organization the hero, which distances our own personal responsibility from it. So maybe that's part of it too.
Vanessa: Yeah. I think there are a number of ways to analyze it and look at it, but I just wanted to give everyone those examples to think about. There are a lot of other ones you can look at online about why people are involved with organizations. It certainly encouraging to check those out.
Marc: One of our members also says...sorry, I'm sorry for the time thing. One of our members also put in the chat just to check out, Mark says you can reference the founder's story at ProjectStormDrainSafety.org/Our-Story. So there's another one there too.
Vanessa: Yeah, wonderful. Great example. Yeah. So I'm just noticing the time and I want to make sure we don't run out of time for questions.
Marc: Oh my goodness. I'm so sorry.
Vanessa: That's okay. I do want to talk a little bit more though about how you tell your own story. We've looked at a few examples, we've talked about why it matters and I want to give you some actual strategy for sharing your own story and how you can go about doing that.
So I've kind of broken it down into five different parts here that I'll talk about in telling your own story. So there's the introduction and the context of it, the, "I felt…" sentiment, "As I learned, I did and you can." I'm going to talk about what all these means. When I've taught story before for people, I think it's important to kind of think about sentence starters and how you're transitioning to telling that story.
Certainly, in some ways it may or may not follow Joseph Campbell's model of the Hero's Journey or other types of storytelling models. I find this is a little bit more of an easy to understand way, rather than telling you but it should follow something like the Hero's Journey itself.
So let me tell you a little about each of these and give you some ideas on how you should start telling each part of the story. So in introduction in context, what you really want to do here is kind of set the setting and context for the story that you're about to tell. So you want to talk about how you heard about the organization or why does the issue interest you.
So what was kind of that initial contact that you had either with the cause, the organization or the issue? Give some details about the setting and context. As we saw in the Pencils of Promise example, they gave us lots of details about that specific setting and that moment, that event that then kind of inspired the organization to be started.
So what were some little details? I think that's really what often makes stories very interesting, sharing those smaller details which you may think are not important or not interesting to people. So being able to share those is really key.
I remember in the story that our executive director at WAVAW shared about her own experience witnessing violence against women, one of the things she wrote in her letter was remember that she was sitting in an English class and she wrote about what book she was reading and the color of the notebook she was taking notes in, which are seemingly small details, but they really helped to paint that picture of where she was and what was going on in that moment.
So once you've set that setting and talked about why that cause interests you and how you started to get involved, you want to talk about how you felt about it. So what did you feel during those first days of being involved with the organization or maybe first weeks? What was going on for you? Were you being empowered? Were there other things happening in your life? What was happening? Recall some of the emotions and thoughts. Try to really paint a picture of your emotional state.
The other thing I would add here is perhaps you have not yet gotten involved with your organization. Maybe this is about a personal event related to the work that your organization does. You can apply this same concept. So what were you feeling during those first days of that experience? What was happening with your family, with you, all those sorts of things that are really important? You can start to dive in a little bit more into the emotional experience you're were having there.
Now, kind of carrying on with that talk about what you were feeling, you want to talk about what you did with that feeling. So how did that emotion translate into action for you? What were you able to do next? So I like to start this section of the story off with, "As I learned…" So "As I learned more about this cause or this issue or as I learned more about the problem I was having, I wanted to do something," or, "I knew that I could do something about it."
So basically now that you've told people about that initial reaction, was there anything that happened that made you feel more committed to the organization or more committed to doing the type of work that you're currently doing. There are a lot of things that could come up here--the sense of injustice, outrage, surprise, all those emotions which often make us feel like, "Oh my gosh, something has to be done now about this."
In kind of the traditional storytelling structure of Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey, this might be kind of the turning point or perhaps an additional inciting incident which made you want to get more involved or do something more active about the issue that was happening.
So the last part, of course, is you want to tell people what you ended up doing. So "I did X, Y or Z to help solve this problem," or, "I started fundraising for this organization because I knew there were more people like this person that I could help. What you want do is talk about how that related to what you learned about the issue about yourself or maybe about your community or something else.
Talk about the actions you took and you can also talk a little bit more about what were your challenges along the way. So if you were starting to look to get involved with an organization or maybe starting to work on a specific project to help fundraise for something you really care about, what were some challenges you came across or how have you solved them. Even though there are challenges along the way, why do you continue to be committed to doing this work?
Now, the last part of the story is a little bit different. So what you want to do is after you've told that personal story to people and talked about how you got involved, what experiences you had, what really got you committed to doing what you're currently doing, you want to give people an opportunity to be involved as well by telling them, "You can also be a part of this story," or you can also be a part of what's happening in an organization.
I think this is one of the really powerful things about storytelling is that we get people excited and now we can show them how they can be a part of this story too, how they can have their own role in this, how they can make a difference. This is a really great thing to think about, especially if you're telling this to a donor and you want to kind of segue into a more artful conversation about what they consider to be part of the solution.
The other thing too is you can talk about their own story. If you don't want to talk about how they can be involved right away, ask them what their personal relationship is to this cause or to the thing that they're involved with. Give them an opportunity to talk about their own story now that you've shared yours.
I've found from my own experience of sometimes being the first one to tell a story that might be a little more vulnerable or a little bit more emotional, that often gives people permission to share their own stories. Helping them feel that permission or have that permission to share that can really help them feel even more connected to your organization or more passionate because they feel like they're seen and heard and it's okay to talk about that in that place.
So those are the five parts of a personal story. There are lots of ways to tell a personal story. But I think if you're kind of struggling with it or feeling like you need some structure to figure out how to tell it, this is a really great place to start. I do want to give you a couple of other tips for you around telling this.
First of all, your story is fluid and it will change and evolve over time. Nothing is set in stone. It's important to keep that spirit changing as you tell it and what new details you can add to it, what new insights you have that you may want to share with people. As I said, earlier, not everyone will be the right audience for your story. So it's important to get a sense as to who they are and if they are a good audience for that story before you start sharing it.
The last one I want to suggest is that you do not have to perform or be perfect in telling that story. I think that really great storytelling is never a performative act. You don't have to put on a costume, per se, or really work yourself up to having to perform it like you were on stage or something. It's not something you need to rehearse and it's not something that has to be perfect. I think some of the best stories that I hear are often ones that are imperfectly told. But they're perfect in and of themselves.
Feeling pressure like it has to be some sort of polished, really clean thing that you can present to the world, I would encourage you to overturn that thinking and realize that you do not have to be a performer of your own story and you can share it in a much more authentic way.
So with that, just a quick review of everything we've talked about because I know we've covered a lot. We've talked about the role of storytelling in building connections. I've talked a little bit about why your personal stories are relevant. I'm really hoping this webinar will help you see the wonderful possibilities that can come as a result of sharing your own story and really, all the good things that can result from that.
We looked at a couple of examples of personal stories. A few people have shared their own as well or some other links to stories that are great to check out. I also shared how to tell that story with others and gave you an example of a structure of what that could look like and some questions to think about as you are putting that story together.
So with that, I would be happy to answer some questions.
Marc: We've got a lot.
Vanessa: Or talk about something more in depth here as well.
Marc: Yes. I'm tweeting out that your story doesn't have to be perfect, polished or performed. That's just so freeing. Because I think so many board members...I hope people don't walk away and miss that this is how you can bring this type of training to your board members too, whether it's having Vanessa come to you or whether it's watching this with them, this is the most profound storytelling or most profound fundraising tool and ambassador tool that board members can have when they share their personal story. They won't remember your mission. They won't remember your financials. They can remember some stories you tell them, which is really smart to do.
But it's also really great to have them feel comfortable just sharing their own personal story and versions of it. It's almost like the way you were talking about it, Vanessa. Your stories are almost a gem. There are different facets. You reveal the side that will be the right facet. It's the same person, same story, but you're not necessarily going to reveal the same detail or be as vulnerable in certain situations.
Vanessa: Yeah, absolutely. I think that's a really good way of thinking about it.
Marc: So there are some questions coming in. The one that came up as we were talking was what if you just work at a place because it's your job? You really don't care. Do you lie?
Vanessa: That's a perfectly legitimate question.
Marc: Some people, fundraising is a profession. They could be a bank teller or they could be a fundraiser.
Vanessa: Yeah. Absolutely. I think that's a really good point. It's certainly a question we've heard before about this idea of having a personal story to share. I think if you feel like it's just a job that you took, I would really encourage you to do some more personal inquiry as to why. I think there is typically some connection or some reason you care about that mission, even if you just took it initially because it was a job and it paid really well or it was an organization that you thought was doing good work.
There's probably going to be some deeper sense of connection to that. Maybe it's to your own value. Maybe in some other totally unrelated experience, you have had that same sort of value about the world that your organization has. That's a really worthwhile story to share. You can talk about how that work really aligned with your values or really is part of your own vision for your future, community or world.
But I think if you are initially thinking, "I'm not sure I have a great story to tell," I would encourage you to spend some time doing some reflection on that. Everybody does have a story to share. Sometimes it's just a matter of giving yourself some time to figure out what that is and allowing yourself some grace in the process to figure out...to be messy in figuring out what it is there and how you want to talk about it.
Marc: That's nice. Yeah. That's true. You probably hit it on the head that it's more of a self-worth question or, "What do I have to contribute?" kind of question. "My story isn't that important. It's not that spectacular." What's amazing, I have found, and I'd be interested to see if you agree, we are so used to this story in our heads, at least the initial story we're telling ourselves, that any of us that have worn glasses know that the times that we stumble through the house looking for our glasses and realize they're already on our head.
We're so used to it that it seems unremarkable, but it's our voice, our experience that sticks out for people. They haven't experienced that before. So there is worth in telling that story. That's really good.
Okay. So one of the questions here. Mark has no problem telling his story. He says because I'm winding the issue is the elevator speech. I think I'm summing this up with integrity by saying how do you vary the length? How do you know how to keep from boring people?
I guess the flip side is your story isn't going to change. Yes, it changes and evolves. But honestly, it's not going to change. No matter what I do, I'm going to have been born on January 6, 1972. That is not going to change. So there are some aspects that I find, anyway...fundraisers get tired of their story long before donors are getting the story, so how do you know...any tips on adjusting length and also any tips on overcoming your own boredom with your own story?
Vanessa: Yeah. Well, I think one of the things to consider, and this is certainly much more tactical, is when you've kind of figured out what that story is you want to tell, what are some of the variations to it? What are the different scenarios in which you would be telling that story and how would you vary the length of it?
I'll give you an example. I talked about my own experience and connection WAVAW and the fact that I've been sexually assaulted. I gave you a very short synopsis in the fact that that's what brought me to the organization. It was literally a sentence. But that was the start of why I was there. I certainly have a much longer version of the story to tell when I do meet with people who are interested in hearing it.
But it's good to think about what is the one sentence/key reason why I care about this What answers the question of why? I think you said his name was Mark, right?
Vanessa: His story about the storm drains is that they had a child who was clearly impacted by that and their family was impacted by that and they don't want to see other people be struck by that same tragedy, right?
Vanessa: So it does not have to be long. It can be short, a sentence or two. I think it's good too to get feedback from people who are close to you who know that story well, so family members or somebody, and say, "If I was to tell this story to somebody else, what do you think are the key details that I need to say?" You can even ask yourself that question too, "What is the most important point of this story? What are some of the key details that people would need to know to understand it or make sense of it if they did not know me very well?"
Marc: I know that my coaching calls, when I end it that way, what are the high points of the call, it's never my brilliance. It's always something else. It's not the parts that I thought were awesome about the call but the client says they have something else.
What you're saying too reminds me of the book "Beyond Bullet Points."
Vanessa: Oh yeah.
Marc: They have the model of telling your stories in five slides and then building off another layer of, I think, three slides for each of those five and then allowing yourself three slides for teach of the three of the five.
So you can have a 5-minute...I don't know if it's 5-minute, 25-minute, 45-mintue or something like that. There's some sense of what you're expanding in accordion depending on the length of time. Any of us who have done keynotes know that announcements and things aren't over until you run out of time. So you have to learn how to compress those points. So sometimes thinking about it in that kind of linear, "Here are the five slides, intro, what I felt, what I found, and then what are some of the other details."
Because I noticed too, you didn't tell details about your story. You referenced it, which was vulnerable and honoring--thank you--but there's also, it wasn't the level of detail that the Pencils went into or even the founder of Women Against Violence Against Women went into. So I realize there are different levels. That's really good. Okay. Mark said, "That's an awesome idea." All right. It's you. We did that.
There's something that I've found helpful too in telling personal stories. There's a guy named John Eldredge who wrote a book called "Epic" and he talks about how story arc goes through our lives. One of the things that really profoundly impacted me was his just asking who are the characters you resonate with, who are the characters you love in stories and identifying those.
Really think about the stories and the movies you watch, movies you watch, stories you listen to or read. Who are the ones that you keep coming back to? When I've asked that of coaching clients, it's been transformative. Because they don't usually think, "This is so obvious. Clearly self-evident that everybody is going to want to be this character." When often it's not. For me it was Gandalf in "Lord of the Rings." I love Gandalf. I just love that he's a nerd.
Marc: I love that he's a warrior. I love that he's patient to let things move. He doesn't have to manipulate everything. There's so much about him. Then I realized sharing that with my coach, "Oh, a lot of other people want to be Aragorn," the warrior king that comes in or they want to be Frodo. There are different people that want to be different things. They are people that want to be different things and can unlock a bit of that, kind of getting around that what's our personal narrative, what's our personal story.
One coaching client loved "Dances with Wolves," the head guy in that, the Kevin Costner person and the Sean Connery person in "Hunt for Red October." It was almost instantaneous. He said, "I don't even have to think about this. These are the two that I have." Both of them were military officials that were attacked from their own people and the outsiders. They couldn't speak their language and were trying to be understood and move. It was fascinating to see how his personal story in leading this organization in a very fractious time was very much mirrored by the people that he resonated with. That's something else about creating your own story.
Vanessa: Great example.
Marc: Thanks. And then the other question that is coming up too is for founders...and this was that was faced to me and I didn't have a good answer. So I'm hoping you will.
Marc: I was at a blogging conference in LA. A woman came up to me and said...and her eyes started watering. She said, "I just get so emotional when I tell my story. I founded this story and… You said it was good to show emotion in your story, but how do I know when it's too much?"
And it was one of those when the tears are going horizontal and you can't see out of your glasses, you might want to dial it back. I didn't say that. I didn't want to be snarky. My response was maybe you ought to get yourself on film and have somebody else show the video so that there's a screen between the raw vulnerability and the person receiving it.
At first I was saying it's not going to be a big deal. As she went on, it was like, "Holy cow, I'm being uncomfortable and I'm in the space." So for you, what are some ways that you've found to reduce vulnerability or increase vulnerability? When is too much emotion too much?
Vanessa: Right. Well, I certainly know that's the risk in storytelling is that you unintentionally alienate your audience or alienate the people you want to connect with.
Vanessa: This will sound really like counterintuitive advice. But the way at least that I've found some of the vulnerability around storytelling...because there are certainly stories that I've told about different things in my life that make me cry, even though I thought about them thousands of times...
Marc: Yeah, me too. That's true.
Vanessa: ...it just has this intense power in evoke this very deep seeded reaction in me about how I feel about it.
I feel like for some of those stories, I'm feeling a little more comfortable telling them, even though I may not tell them often. The best way that I've figured out how to work through them is just by being more vulnerable more often about them. You know, often that's meant telling them to people who I know and trust who won't be judgmental about it if I do cry or get really emotionally about sharing that story.
Marc: Interesting. That sounds so Brené Brown, to be vulnerable more often.
Vanessa: I know.
Marc: That's awesome.
Vanessa: I think that's the thing that's often been really helpful for me, to be more vulnerable about it. Where that emotional reaction comes from typically is that you may not share that story very often, so when you do have the chance to be vulnerable and share it, it kind of starts to run over the glass very quickly, right.
But I think when you not necessarily share it to desensitize yourself to it, but share it so that you get more comfortable talking about it. I think you're able to figure out what part of that story is really triggering for you. Is there a different way you could say it? Is there a different way you could think about it in your mind?
I know that's been the case for me oftentimes when I talk about my mom and her multiple sclerosis. There's a lot about that that's very triggering for me and makes me want to cry sometimes, but there are often certain things I can do or so or ways I can talk myself into the story to make me feel less vulnerable about it and less afraid to tell people about what's going on.
Marc: That's really interesting. Yeah.
Vanessa: So that's what I would say.
Marc: Yeah, no. That's really, really good. So another question is coming in. Do you still have some time? Is it all right? Just a few more minutes?
Vanessa: Yeah, of course.
Marc: Okay. Cool. The question about a video sparked the question of, "How long?" Are there any other best practices about putting...and that's a whole other seminar. I understand. We should get Chris Davenport in here. But what have you found? Any things that you can just kind of, insights you can drop on us about telling a founder's story on a website?
Vanessa: Yeah. I think generally for video, what I've read and seen is that best practices, the video should be anywhere from like 10 seconds to about 2 minutes, generally not longer than 2 minutes. Certainly 10 seconds is not a lot of time to tell a story. You probably want to err towards the one to two-minute mark.
Marc: You just probably decimated 90% of the people listening to this because they're like, "Ah, but I'm just getting started."
Vanessa: I know.
Marc: But you're absolutely right. That's what I've seen too. If you go longer than 20, I guess it's fine, but you have to have really solid content that locks people in to want you to hear the 20. Most people don't want to hear a 5 or 10-minute dissertation on your founding story on your homepage. They want to hear interest me.
Vanessa: Yeah. I think the same thing is true for website copy. I do a ton of copywriting for organizations. What I find often happens is that the story will be really compelling and we'll want to write about it for a long time. But I think that knowing that people's attention spans online are very short, we try to pick the best things that we can tell that hook that audience right away.
Typically we try to tell the story in what I call the above the fold space, before anybody has to scroll down the website. There might be more details below that. But if they haven't read anything else other than that first little bit that they can see when they first land on the page, they've got the important pieces.
Marc: Like the pencils.
Vanessa: That's kind of my rule of thumb. Mm-hmm. Yeah.
Marc: The two lines that were in pencil were the story and then all the details on that in that example you showed was filler and important, arguably important to the story, but you could walk away if you just skimped it.
Good. So when you are also sharing, one of the things that was pretty profound to me...early in my career there was a person I was working with who told a statistics story in a fundraising letter, "Parents aren't giving enough or giving more than alum, alum we need to get our act together." I read the letter and I thought, "This is awful." This just sounds like we as a school can't do good goal-setting. This doesn't sound like anything motivational. Fortunately the database person and I were sort of like, "What do we do?"
So we closed the door and we sat down and it turns out that she had this profoundly moving story of when she left the organization, it was a high school, when she left the high school, she wired money, a donation, that next fall from Europe. She was doing her first year of college in Europe. Her kids were there. It was totally outside of her comfort level.
Vanessa: Are you still there?
Marc: I am. Are you still there?
Vanessa: Okay. I think you cut out there.
Marc: It sounds like my audio is going in and out. Okay. So it was totally outside of her comfort level. She was very much a head person, not a statistics person, not any other kind of person. So it can be helpful, I guess, to have somebody to say, "This is my story. Do you think this is helpful?" because we are able to...it was so clear to us that this is so much better. She did, to her credit, she wrote it and we had people that said, "Tears were in my eyes."
Vanessa: Yeah. I think that goes back to that whole idea that sometimes we feel like we need permission to share our story. So for all of you who are listening, Marc and I give you permission to share your story.
Marc: You have our permission from coast to coast, from Vancouver or wherever you right now, Vanessa, to South Carolina, coast to coast you have it. That is really cool. And then finally, this is my last bit. This is the story that got me. What I love about these stories is where they then lead.
So you've given us great information on how to craft...I love those sentence prompts. I can't wait to craft my own story for the work I do. I haven't felt permission to share the real reason I started Fundraising Coach because it feels a little bit too edgy and I recoil at certain things.
So it's interesting. Just thinking about our own personal narrative in any respect, not just fundraising. But the one that you have told, Vanessa, that has transformed the way I teach is the Women Against Violence Against Women. I say that like I know what I'm talking about; that's so much fun how it rolls. Where you all realize...there are nine shelters for women in Vancouver, is that right?
Vanessa: Right. Yeah, nine other organizations that also support women who have experienced sexual assault.
Marc: And as you started sharing your personal stories, you all realized, "We all resonate from a feminist worldview. We're all feminists. That's part of what motivates us." And that freed your organization up. To me, it's your personal story and the personal stories of the people you work with and volunteer with helps the organization discover its own voice. That's the hardest thing for so many of us. We try to do our fundraising copy or our web copy by committee and we try to make it sound professional and all corporate speak and totally impersonal and boring.
But we need to have some sort of humanity, some sort of edge, some sort of perspective, point of view in our corporate voice. Your story about violence against women, realizing, "Oh, we're the feminist shelter. Okay." That just frees you up and there's that whole what you were saying about risk. There's always that risk in storytelling that you're going to unintentionally alienate people. That is okay.
Our call is not to make everybody feel comfortable. Our call is to help move our organization forward and support the people we support. Guy Kawasaki says that part of that means that you're going to turn people off. It's not that you're trying to. It's not that you're trying to be offensive.
But you've never been called to win everybody over to your cause. You're only looking for the people that resonate with what you're doing. That allows you to be a little more edgy. Now you have to get past your board or whatever too or your boss because that's uncomfortable space for a lot of nonprofits.
Vanessa: Right. Yeah, no. Absolutely.
Marc: So thank you. I love your powerful story of telling your own stories and how that can uncover this whole new area of freedom in being the organization that it was created to be and then it helps...yeah.
Vanessa: Absolutely. Yeah. That's one of the many added benefits of telling the stories.
Marc: It brings so much integrity to our work too, the integration. I just can go on. Any last minute, like if everybody were to leave right now and just do one thing this afternoon--for us it's afternoon, for you it's morning, for people listening its' whenever--one thing they're able to do to take their personal story, no matter how polished or unpolished it is to the next level, what would be the one thing you'd recommend?
Vanessa: Oh, one thing. I would say practice telling it, either to yourself, like maybe record yourself on your phone, or tell somebody who you have a trusting relationship with. But tell it and is you tell it, think about other parts that I'm not telling. What else could be in here?
Marc: That's great.
Vanessa: What are some of those parts that are missing? Are those the most powerful pieces and why am I leaving those out? Think about those pieces of the story that may not yet be told.
Marc: I'm writing that down. That is really powerful. Awesome. I am so honored that you spent this time with us today, Vanessa. Everybody, go to TheStorytellingNonprofit.com, check out here blog, sign up for the free e-course she's got here. There's so much more where this came from.
Vanessa: Yes, definitely.
Marc: So if you happen to be in Austin in October, check us out in BB Con. We'll be talking story. If you happen to be in Seattle in November of 2015, definitely go to the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference. We'll be there talking story. But you don't have to go anywhere to get the wisdom that Vanessa is sharing with us.
And by hopefully later this afternoon, you can go to TheNonprofitAcademy.com/Vault and get this recording as well as almost 70 others on all sorts of topics including fundraising, storytelling and tools and templates and we'll have a link to Adam's story and some others up there too.
Thanks everyone. Until the next NPA Presents, I'll see you in the forums.