At the last DreamBank business accelerator workshop I attended with George B. Thomas, I heard an announcement about a talk with Miri Rodriguez, Storyteller with Microsoft. As with most social media marketing workshops that are geared for business development, I was prepared to do what I always do: translate the basics in my head to apply to nonprofit communications work.
But Miri’s talk on storytelling was so applicable to nonprofit communications. That’s because all of the nonprofits that I most admire are putting human impact stories at the center of how they talk about their work. Even the Dane County Humane Society and the River Alliance of Wisconsin aren’t just talking about pets and rivers: they are telling the stories of people.
Putting the focus on people’s achievement
At the DreamBank talk, Miri explained how Microsoft welcomes the stories of people who are using Microsoft products to accomplish some kind of achievement. In Microsoft’s storytelling, achievement is very subjective. She said that people talk about their achievements in themes of movement, heroism, betterment and destination. But because Microsoft’s storytelling series has a clear mission and clear story guidelines, they are able to welcome stories that fit their vision which helps them share examples of how people are using technology for good.
Some of the most successful and moving stories are ones where people may be vulnerable, but overcome great odds. She used the example of Ariela Suster’s story – watch the video online. Ariela will be coming to Madison and you should absolutely come to that.
They are already talking about you. Engage them.
Miri also made the point that people are already talking about your organization. You might as well capture how they relate to you, what they think of you, and then share their stories. How can you learn what inspires them and can you ask them to talk about that to you? That’s the start of the story, whether it’s people who benefit from your service or who believe in your mission or who donate to your organization.
I also attended a meet and greet at Synergy Coworking that was organized by Araceli from @WI_MUJER. The big takeaway for me was that all stories have value. Achievement can truly be about moving towards a goal or starting on a journey toward a destination. I’ve had conversations with people recently who don’t believe they have anything good to share via their personal brand or on social media… but you don’t have to be an expert. If you are learning as you go, share what you’ve learned with others who are just starting out. Miri’s mentee learned that her story has value and people benefit and grow from learning about her “started from the bottom, now I’m here” experience.
Authenticity is everything.
Throughout her visit, Miri emphasized that you can’t fake passion. Transparency is the basis of authenticity and you can’t fake that either. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable because that is where your humanity is and that’s how you can connect deeply with others. Don’t be afraid to admit what you don’t know or what you are learning either. That’s a big part of what you have already overcome to get where you are now.
Your story matters. The people at the heart of your nonprofit have stories that matter (working on dry public policy? Look for the people and show the human impact. Your donors have something to share too). If you are trying to explain your mission or tell the stories of your nonprofit’s impact and it seems boring, go back to the drawing board. Go back to that transparency and find the authenticity of the human experience. That’s where the real story is.