4 Ways Stories Can Help Build Your Cause

Photo by Sharon Drummond
06.14.2012By

Photo by Sharon Drummond

I recently finished reading a pretty fascinating book called Winning the Story Wars, by Jonah Sachs. The premise of the book is that while everyone is vying for attention, we are actually returning to our ancient roots–we are using stories to try to win peoples’ attention.

Sachs points out that every brand these days is trying to create a story. Pepsi used to tell the story that it was the “choice of a new generation.” Now it tries to tell the story of all of the good it is sponsoring around the world. The story of Apple is that it is the tool of creativity and a mark of the more free spirit. The Old Spice “man your man could smell like” campaign told the story, in a humorous way, of a man who can mock how good looking he is while also poking fun at the audience.

As I was reading this book, which primarily focused on consumer-based companies, it struck me how easy it could be for an NPO to use a similar storytelling strategy. What struck me even more is how effective such a strategy could be. Here are four ways that stories can help you build your cause.

You Against An Evil

Many causes already have a story that is ready to tell. You are trying to improve something in the world that is broken. This ready-made narrative can turn into a powerful story-telling technique. Good versus evil, after all, is a pretty darned common story arc. What can make this approach even more powerful is that you can inspire people who want to fight the same evil to join you. You are on the side of the “heroes” or the “good guys.” Whether you are fighting crime rates, drunk driving, a health problem, or something else, this storytelling approach can make your cause compelling, easier to understand, and easier for people to wrap their arms around.

Empowering Your People

Think about the people who are interested in your cause. Think about your supporters. What are they hoping to gain by supporting your cause? Hopefully more than a tax write-off, right? Are they hoping that they can do something that makes a difference? Are they hoping to do something to honor the memory of someone they care about? Reach out to your supporters and potential supporters with a story about how your cause can help them achieve that fulfillment they’re looking for.

"Winning the Story Wars," by Jonah Sachs

Genesis

Many causes come into existence in a way that makes for a compelling story. Angela Daffron started Jodi’s Voice because she wanted to prevent more women from suffering at the hands of a violent stalker. Luma Mufleh started the Fugees because she saw that immigrant children were suffering and she wanted to help them. Why did you start your cause? How did those first few days/weeks/months/years go? This is all great fodder for a story, and this kind of Genesis story will also help explain what your cause is trying to do and how it is hoping to succeed.

Apply an Existing Story To Your Own

One of the most compelling lessons I learned in Sachs’ book is how to use an existing story to frame the story of a cause. In his case, he was asked by a client to put together a video about the evils of factory farming. What resulted was a spoof on the Matrix series called The Meatrix. By using characters like Moopheus the Bull, Sachs and his team were able to jump on the tail of a very popular story and use it for their own purposes. It immediately created a bridge of understanding and made the cause more easy to grasp and hence more memorable. Is there an existing story that you could overlay on your own to make it more easy for new people to understand and get involved with?

If you’re interested in how the art of storytelling can help draw people to your cause, I do recommend picking up Winning the Story Wars. Sachs takes you through a lot of exercises, including formulating who your “hero” is, how to frame that hero, how to frame your cause to inspire that hero, and more.