Somethings are worth getting up at 5:45 a.m. for. Breakfast with Faye Wightman is one them. I didn’t have her all to myself, though. About fifty of us gathered in the Fraser Valley on a Monday morning for an AFP* breakfast to hear Faye, President and CEO of the Vancouver Foundation, speak about the things her mother has taught her about donor stewardship. Among other things, she spoke about knowing your donor, communicating clearly and the power of storytelling. Thinking back, what I remember most of Faye’s presentation are the stories she told, including this one:
An elderly woman, who looked like she had lived a hard life, lingered in a charity’s front entry. The receptionist started a conversation. The woman asked for directions to the nearest bus stop. It was a grey and rainy day in Vancouver, so the receptionist offered to call a taxi, but the woman insisted on taking the bus. The receptionist accompanied the woman to the lobby of the office tower and pointed her to the nearest bus stop. The woman buttoned her coat, hoisted her umbrella and disappeared into the crowd. Some time later the elderly woman returned. This time she came to make the charity the beneficiary of a staggeringly large legacy gift. She said the receptionist’s kindness had a lot to do with her decision to make the gift.
Stories are remarkable. We tell them and we re-tell them. For a charity, that’s golden. You want and need ambassadors and spokespeople in the community.
Stories are memorable. I am working on a short, 400-word project. I read the client’s draft last night. It’s a fast-moving narrative, covering lots of points and shares a sliver of a story. By morning, the points had blurred in my mind, but the story was vividly clear to me.
Stories can make us feel something. Chip and Dan Health in their book Made to Stick say, “…a credible idea makes people believe. An emotional idea makes people care.” It doesn’t matter if we are rich or poor, intelligent or simple. Stories connect us human to human, heart to heart.
Stories teach us things. A story has the ability to convey complex, deep meaning in just a few sentences. Think about the teaching embedded in the story about the elderly woman and the receptionist.
Stories show impact. Few things can show impact like a story can. It’s one thing to say that a piece of medical equipment is lifesaving. It’s quite another thing to share the story of a young mother whose life has been saved because she had access to donor-funded equipment.
My advice: Tell lots of good stories when you make the case for your cause.
My question: Are you maximizing the power of storytelling to help bring about the change you want to see in the world?
*Association of Fundraising Professionals