A few months ago I attended a lovely event that honored a few local nonprofit organizations. The audience was fairly diverse. There were more than a few well-heeled folks in attendance.
In other words: the event presented a fantastic opportunity for these organizations to get in front of potential contributors and expand their community of support or at the very least raise their visibility.
All three organizations, two of which have decent sized budgets, whiffed. And all three representatives followed the same outline. It went a bit like this:
I could feel the room going cold as each person spoke. There was no sense of connection or humanity. Just a bunch of words, ideas, and generalities. And no one included a call to action.
As each presenter spoke, I found myself getting unreasonably frustrated. These were great organizations doing important work and they were coming across as boring and inconsequential. There is NO REASON that every single person speaking on behalf of a nonprofit shouldn’t be able to deliver a 3 to 5 minute talk that connects with an audience, communicates not just what the organization does, but also why it’s important, and calls the audience to action, even if it’s just to visit their website.
Here’s a proven structure anyone can use that’s been used for hundreds of years to rally people to action:
Mindfulness meditation is having a Moment.
According to Fidelity Investments, 22% of employers offered mindfulness training progarms last year. That number is expected to double in 2017.
Harvard scientists have found that meditation conclusively and positively changes brain structure. And the Harvard Business Review reports that mindfulness meditation reduces stress and helps practitioners rely more on executive functioning over impulses.
Aetna, the health insurance company, calculated that it gained $3,000 in productivity per employee that went through a mindfulness program. That constituted a eleven to one return on investment!
As the research builds, apps that promise increased productivity, decreased stress, and deeper connection proliferate on mobile platforms: HeadSpace, Insight Timer, Simple Habit and others make expertly guided recorded meditations available anywhere and anytime.
This is all great. I’m a meditation and breathwork facilitator. I’m not going to say that more people meditating is a bad thing.
Any time I lead an organizational or leadership storytelling workshop, I split folks into pairs and ask them to share a story with each other. Person ‘A’ goes first and Person ‘B’ is asked to simply listen without interjection. After the exercise, I ask everyone what they noticed about sharing and listening to the stories.
Based on what I’ve heard after facilitating this exercise hundreds of times, one of the most challenging parts is not telling the story, but listening without speaking. This makes a fair bit of sense: most of us have been culturally training to treat conversation like a tennis match. We listen primarily for an opening, a chance to return the volley, to share our own point of view.
What happens when we’re challenged to simply listen, to take in another person’s story without any agenda of our own other than being present?
Recently, I had the chance to speak with two organizations who had both attended the same training as part of the Think Money First Accelerator program I co-presented with Social Sector Partners in October 2017. The storytelling part of the program was a half-day focused on storytelling for communicating with funders and, perhaps more importantly, transforming internal culture and core beliefs.
Six months after the training, many of the organizations reported not only retaining much of the information from our time together, but also implementing new strategies and approaches.
Two organizations in particular stood out. Both had implemented story-based strategies with the aim of increasing team members’ connection with themselves, each other, and the organization’s mission.
One reported great success, the other reported challenges with the process. Examining each organization’s approach reveals a few key best practices when it comes to moving organizations towards a Storytelling Culture.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.