When non-profit organizations try to convince the public to believe in their cause, they often focus on facts—rattling off statistics as if pitching to a cold-hearted corporation. It’s perfectly understandable why they do this, after all, facts matter.
We need to know how fast the jungle is being lost in Borneo if we are to save the orangutans. Nor can we blame a successful non-profit for laying out their resume of victories. Lives saved. Animals rescued—the quantifiable change.
But do facts inspire? Does the next generation of non-profit leaders hear the percentages and ratios and picture a future where they take action? Or do we drown in data?
Consider, when was the last time you heard a fact that caused you to act? Has a statistic ever brought a tear to your eye?
But a story. A story is worth a thousand facts. The statistics can lay the groundwork, but a story will transcend the amorphous mass of numbers. It will inspire.
The Power of One
When telling a story, especially for non-profit organizations, it’s essential not to rattle each tale off like another form of data. Stories are a person’s life, and as such, should be allowed full room to breathe and blossom. A single person, animal, or group’s tale, full of struggle and sacrifice, is utterly priceless. Their success and salvation lift us all.
Habitat for Humanity helps families build and improve their homes. In one piece, they focused on Walter, an 81-year-old man who didn’t have a bathroom, instead, using an outhouse. They told his story, from his childhood living in poverty – “we were poor, and a bathroom was expensive” – to the present. When for the first time in his life – and thanks to Habitat for Humanity – Walter received his very own toilet.
A simple story, and yet powerful beyond belief.
Each subtle detail from Walter’s lifelong poverty, to his good nature and honesty, presented the message clearer than any fact about the number of toilet-less households. His daughter’s confession: “I didn’t want him going out there in the cold or falling in the dark,” added soul. I mean, who would?
Habitat for Humanity lived up to its name. They humanized their work.
Show, Don’t Tell
Many believe storytelling is a lawless task, where words can be applied to the page without rules. Somehow, from the jumble, a story must emerge. Not so. Storytelling has many rules. But only one cardinal rule: show, don’t tell.
Take these two sentences.
Lenny the Elephant, had a hard life.
Lenny the Elephant, was only two when the poachers came for his mother.
It takes more words to show. It’s easier to tell. But by taking your audience on a journey, you get them to engage with the subject of the story. To empathize.
Show Hope. Inspire.
Some say that the difference between tragedy and comedy is time. Well, the difference between misery and inspiration is hope.
Lenny doesn’t die in the wilderness. He is found and taken to the local zoo or wildlife rescue center. There he is nurtured, loved, and allowed to grieve before being released back into the wild.
Remember: if you show darkness, you must also show light.
Provide your audience with a solution to the problem you have presented, show it in action, and people will flock to donate. The next-generation of non-profit leaders will hear their calling.