Step 3: The Power of Story
Every Journey Needs a Story
How do I get people in America to care for and support our work in Africa and Haiti? I do it through story. Story compels people to act. This is especially true when you are trying to get people to act for issues on which they DON'T normally act.
From Day One, Help One Now has been fortunate enough to have amazing storytellers on our team. One of our co-founders is a professional photographer, our friend Kris Rutherford has been to Haiti 7 or 8 times to share story through film, one of our first board members is also a web developer, we have had multiple writers join us on trips, and the city where we launched the non-profit -- Austin -- is a creative force.
I believe that storytellers are the new prophets and poets of our generation. (Tweet That) The truth is this: if you don’t have a compelling story, it’s almost impossible to launch a grassroots nonprofit, grow it and sustain it.
Here's why: Story inspires us to act.
Why do folks buy P90X? Because we see fit people on TV every Saturday morning, we hear their story, and we want the same results that they got.
Shows like Undercover Boss or The Voice compel us to watch because we hear the stories of those involved and we begin to root for or against people.
We follow shows on TV because we get connected to a story and have a desire to see how it resolves, which is why cliffhangers are so brutal.
We love sports because of the story. Will our team win or lose? How will it happen? The suspense of the unknown is captivating.
Stories create an emotion that compels us to act. This is why numbers alone will never compel a tribe of people to give, get involved, be generous and sacrifice.
Numbers paralyze and numb us. Data is vital and has a role, but it must be married to story for the masses to engage an audience and break through the noise. Reread that and pause to deal with this reality - you must do whatever it takes to break through all of the noise in the world. I simply cannot overstate this.
In 2012, Help One Now decided to take our first bloggers trip to Haiti. This trip was a BIG risk for us. But, we knew we had to share our story to a wider audience if we wanted to grow.
Six bloggers went to Haiti with us. On that trip, over 100 kids were sponsored and close to $200,000 was raised in the following two months through the Legacy Project. Four hundred Haitian children now have access to education because these bloggers shared our story to their tribes.
No risk, no reward. No story, no movement.
Now, here is where the tension gets thick. A story needs a platform. In other words, if you have a story worth telling, then you have a platform worth building.
People have to know about your mission and they need a clear way to get involved. They need on-ramps and off-ramps. If you do this right, they will be your biggest fans and they will help share your story to their tribes.
It’s like a virus. The story spreads throughout real life conversations and social media — it’s a powerful element. If no one is sharing your story, you simply won’t grow. You will be stuck and incredibly frustrated.
I did a four-part series on the importance of a platform. You can read more here. The good news is that good stories will help build your platform as an organization so you can make the desired impact.
How Do You Know If You Have A Story To Tell?
Every organization’s ethos is rooted in story. It may be a human story, a product that you’re passionate about, or an innovative way of thinking.
Apple decided to innovate the way we listen to music and use our phones. They told a story: “1000 songs in your pocket.” Remember when Steve Jobs shared that story? Those who listened were sold. Give me that white device that lets me put “1000 Songs in my pocket.” That is a much better story than carrying around hundreds of CD’s.
Charity:Water told the story of clean vs unclean water through photography, video, and the internet. And then they told us how we could help make a difference by giving away our birthday - and thousands have.
Who is your favorite musician or band? Why do you love their music? I’ll bet it is because they’re telling a story that connects with your soul.
There are varied and easy methods to tell your story:
Written content like blogs and e-newsletters. The content CANNOT be boring or normal. You must find creative ways to capture people's attention.
Live Events like Sunday morning church services, house shows and conferences.
Social Media like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. They’re free; you must leverage those platforms.
Photography. An image can be more powerful than a thousand words.
Video. We now live in a visual generation. You need multiple kinds of videos -- teasers under 1 min, 2-3 mins information videos and even mini-documentaries that tell a full story.
Sometimes we do this on a professional level, yet, don't ever underestimate the power of a raw, unproduced story. A simple smartphone picture or 30 sec clip are both useful and compelling.
What If You Do Not Have A Story?
If you have a clear story and it’s not being told, then take some time to process how you will begin to communicate the story. If you’re not sure whether you have a clear story, get together with a group of friends and do a whiteboard session. I bet you can identify two or three stories.
Then, put together a simple plan and share those stories over the next 90 days and use that as a launching pad.
Story is so important to Help One Now that we have an 18 month story plan, full time staff (though that took us 4 years), and we use a significant portion of our budget on story, because it's apart of of our ethos and it is the spark that helps us connect our dream to our work.
So, what story are you telling? How are you telling that story? Who do you know that can help you tell your story? When people visit your website, will they find a story that will grip their soul?
If “yes,” great job! If “no,” then you have some work to do -- hopefully, you also have a little more clarity.
Also, if you missed any parts of the series, click below to catch up.