Storytelling. It’s the center of everything.

Photo by eyeliam
04.26.2012By

Photo by eyeliam

Guest post by Jason Konopinski. Jason is a freelance copywriter and editor. An advocate of social good and strong storytelling, he works with small-to-medium sized corporate and agency clients to produce rock-solid audience responsive content. He is currently seeking a full-time agency role as a copywriter and digital content creator.

My grandfather told the most incredible stories about life in Poland through two World Wars. He spoke only Polish – a language that I can understand though my speaking vocabulary is somewhat limited after years of disuse. A butcher until the very day that he died, he taught me how to make kielbasa and break down poultry and beef into the primals. He’d talk about how he was involved in the underground resistance movement, smuggling black market goods at the risk of great personal injury. The tales were fantastic, but it was how he told them that was often far more remarkable than the details themselves. Those years in the underground made him intensely private, so those times with Dziadzia were always cherished.

There’s an emotional engine of change behind every great story. It’s what keeps us turning the pages, identifying with characters and actors whose perspectives and experience resonate with us. The challenge for non-profit organizations is how to rediscover that emotional engine to transform passive donors into champions for the mission of your cause. Radical empathy is a powerful motivator – and it’s central to the philosophy of brand storytelling, and especially critical for NPOs who rely on member support and contributions to continue working on their mission.

Now, I’ve a confession to make: I don’t work in the NPO space professionally, but I’ve been a donor for a number of organizations over the years. Most recently, I’ve served as the media & publicity chair for the Relay for Life of Hanover. Like any volunteer organization, we struggle with busy schedules, getting media to pay attention to team fundraising efforts, and competition with other community organizations scrambling for the same limited pool of resources. Despite a slumping economy, our event has exceeded its fundraising goal year over year. Our best recruiting successes happen at Relay.

When people ask me Why I Relay, I have a story to share. My wife has lost six aunts and uncles to various forms of cancer, including breast, lung, pancreatic and brain. I relay in honor and memory of them. It makes the purpose of the event real and relatable to those unfamiliar with the mission of the American Cancer Society and Relay for Life. Every photograph of a loved one, a candle lit in remembrance, the iconic HOPE display – these symbols for Relay for Life tell a story in their own right. They help people connect with the brand, the organization and the mission at a purely emotional level, a connection that maps the change from impersonal supporter to enthusiastic advocate. They are the intangible and underutilized emotional assets that power and drive the cause.

Our efforts to meet fundraising objectives and meet recruitment numbers should never eclipse the real reason that we Relay: to aid research, offer patient outreach and increase awareness for community-based care and support in our own communities. An emphasis on visual storytelling motifs and vehicles allows us to put the participants and the individual teams at the very center of the Relay experience from pre-event fundraising through post-event wrap-up.

  • Great stuff Jason.u00a0 If I can add….. The more an organization focuses on the stories of their mission, the more they will understand their value.u00a0 There’s great external benefit to telling the stories.u00a0 But, there’s also great internal benefit (for the organization) to understanding how their organization is helping people and repeating that.u00a0 nnSo… on the marketing side, stories can fuel supporter engagement.u00a0 Within the organization, stories can fuel motivation and understanding.u00a0

    • That’s a great point about internal storytelling – and one that I haven’t fully considered. u00a0We all have stories about what prompted us to get involved with various organizations, but the same principles definitely apply to those make NPO work a part of their careers.u00a0nnFundamentally, it makes sense. It renews a sense of purpose and commitment when awareness and advocacy is down.u00a0

    • Stories can motivate, stories can make us feel compassion, stories can move us into action. So I agree with you that on the marketing side, stories can fuel supporter engagement. Stories bypasses the logical mind and makes people feel. So it’s a good way to convince people to help.u00a0

      • Story is the connector, both internally and externally. u00a0:)u00a0

  • Kris Bradley

    Thanks for sharing your story about Why You Relay Jason. u00a0I found out a couple of weeks ago that a friend from high schools mother had lost her two decade battle with cancer. Turns out I actually worked with Marsha later in life and enjoyed getting to know her as a coworker and not just a mother of my friend. u00a0After I left that job, I was filming a Relay for Life event in Lewistown for my current employer at that time, and I came to find out that Marsha was an instrumental part of that event. u00a0I would like to go to the Relay for Life event this summer and walk in her memory. u00a0Again, thanks for this great post.

    • Cheers, Kris. The story is what connects. If we remember that, the rest comes easily.u00a0

      • Kris Bradley

        Yes, if I attend the Relay event this summer, I will be sure to share my story so that I can connect to others whom may have a similar story, like you did for me here today.

  • I think people who listened to story-telling in the childhood are more clever than those who didn’t!