Storytelling and the Art of Persuassion (Part 1)

epic fail

In large part the work of nonprofits is that of persuasion. The public are encouraged to change how they view the world, to consider how other people live, to think differently, to support new ideas and, either through financial support or action, to join with us and support our causes. But despite the critical importance of persuasion, many nonprofits struggle to inspire the kind of support required to make substantive change.

It is through stories that we inspire action. Stories are how we understand the world. Stories emerged as a way to shape our understanding, share experiences and remember important information. It is no surprise then that storytelling can be a powerful tool for challenging perceptions, communicating ideas and allowing people to experience and understand what we do.

Essentially, a story expresses how and why life changes. A story is about how someone solves a problem and how the world and its inhabitants change as a result. They usually begin with the world in balance only for an event to occur (in screenwriting they call it the “inciting incident”) that disrupts the world forcing our hero to go on a quest to restore balance to the world.

Does that sound familiar? It should because our nonprofit work is filled with inciting incidents, those events that harm and hinder, that inspire our work and that drive us to do what we do. They are the challenges that people face on a daily basis, the calamities that affect communities. Our mission statements are those heroic quests to restore the world, to make the world better in some way, to rectify the inequalities, to help those who are being harmed, whether through action or through changing the way we perceive the world.

Despite the dramatic work we do and the scale of our vision, our communications often fail to inspire action, and yet nonprofits are in the perfect position to use stories that inspire action. Stories have a connective quality, linking individuals together through similar emotions and thoughts, molding our minds, and reinforcing experiences.They allow us to empathize, to connect with people, experiencing different lives, and this quality is essential for persuading people to support our causes. What are your stories?

  • Lyndsee

    Do you have any examples of nonprofits that are doing this especially well? All of this is really resonating, but I’m struggling to adapt it to my own organization’s cause.