Photo credit: Charlotte Ginger Rushton Dinunzio

Stories Bring Engagement

You’re in the business of delivering your organization’s mission, therefore, it’s essential that you understand how and why team members, patrons, and donors choose to support you. Learn how neuroscience and storytelling for charitable organizations are the keys to creating the engagement you depend upon for success.

For a charitable organization, engagement comes in many different forms: volunteer hours, ambassadorship, event attendance, and of course, financial contributions.

Did you know that a person’s more likely to donate to your organization after hearing an impactful story? Story goes far beyond the mere words, traveling into heart and mind – always heart first.

The common saying’s ‘winning hearts and minds.’ We never say, winning minds and hearts, because we intuitively understand that our hearts lead the way while our minds help us to make sense of how we’re feeling. Neuroscience has documented the direct relationship stories have with our brain chemistry and our subsequent actions, such as donating money.

Paul Zak, Director of the Center for Neuroeconomic Studies and author of The Moral Molecule: The Source of Love and Prosperity explains the power of narrative.

“In the brain, maintaining attention produces signs of arousal: the heart and breathing speed up, stress hormones are released, and our focus is high. Once a story has sustained our attention long enough, we may begin to emotionally resonate with the story’s characters.”

The neurochemicals our brains release generate our feeling states. This extraordinary phenomenon, known as ‘transportation’ arises from our brain’s ability to simulate the emotions we observe that the characters in the story are experiencing.

Your Transcendent Story

“The amount of oxytocin released predicted how much money people would share.” -Paul J. Zak

Is the story you’re telling about your organization creating the effect you’re looking for? Is it a story you feel passionate about every time you share it? Simon Sinek, author of Start With Why says, “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

As an arts organization, you passionately tell the story of what you do and you earnestly demonstrate how you do it. The missing piece is your transcendent story, the why you do what you do.

Telling the story of “Why You Do What You Do” creates changes in the brain and body that directly result in engagement. Tapping into your organization’s “Why” story makes it possible for your potential donors to see your organization’s work as a part of their story. Even more importantly, they can come to see themselves playing a significant role in actualizing that story. Genuine and sustained engagement comes when donors see how and where their story intertwines with yours.

A truly effective “Why” story requires that it be personal and emotionally compelling since these two ingredients are necessary for your listener to become engaged. In order for this to work effectively, you must be personally and emotionally engaged. This is because great leaders not only tell powerful stories, they inhabit them.

As you share your story of “Why,” your listener experiences “emotional simulation,” and, provided that they do not feel manipulated, will choose to engage. As a result of seeing themselves in your story, they will take action.

Leadership = Great Storytelling

“Those who tell the best stories will become the best leaders.” -Jennifer Aaker, Persuasion & the Power of Story, Professor of Marketing, Stanford Graduate School of Business

Developing your organization’s transcendent story empowers your board and others to act as ambassadors. If you have given them a story that feels relevant to them, they’ll share it. To the degree that they see themselves in your story, they’ll take action. Consequently, the rewards of investing in the development of this story go far beyond your organization’s bottom line. Team members and other stakeholders experience greater fulfillment, resulting in increased motivation and commitment.

Let’s say you want to be the leading charitable organization in your community. Your ability to design and effectively communicate your most compelling story requires these ingredients:

The Four Ingredients of Storytelling for Charitable Organizations

  1. Clarity of vision, values and mission
  2. Narrative fluency, the ease with which you comprehend and express narrative
  3. Empathy for your audience and team members
  4. Courage

Which of these ingredients do you already have in place and how can you develop the ones you’re missing?

It’s helpful to remember that your transcendent story already exists (always). It merely waits to be discovered and your work’s to unearth, design, and express your transcendent story. Like an archaeologist, you must dig up, dust off, polish, and present this rare treasure that lies at the heart of your cause.

Create a relevant and compelling organizational story as your most effective connective tool. Share it with your team, board members, patrons, and donors. Live out your destiny as a leader as you bring your organization’s mission to life.

“5 out of 5 people remember a story better than a list of statistics.” -Zette Harbour

I’ve performed stories, taught storytelling, and led workshops centered around story for over 25 years. A story’s the most profound connective tool we have, and often, the least understood.

Connect to more story at ZetteHarbour.com.

As a professional storyteller for over 25 years, I have shared stories of all kinds to listeners of all ages, and, I have gathered hundreds of stories, both traditional and personal. Over time, one unchangeable truth emerged: the story about who you are here to be is the story that drives the conditions of your life.

This story has the power to determine the quality of the life you live. It can keep you tethered, or, it can launch you into the stratosphere. It is the most powerful self-development tool you have.

Understanding your story – life purpose – and consciously choosing what it will be is the single most potent transformational tool you were born with.


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