Mission Storytelling: Powerful Stories That Move Us

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Great charities have great stories. Does yours?

Great stories come in multiple shapes and sizes. But they all have a few common foundational points: they are compelling and engaging, they are moving and seductive. They show vision or illustrate mission.

The first level of storytelling is often “The Founder’s Story.” It’s the “how it all began” tale.

Make-A-Wish tells the moving story of how a customs agent and his friends in the Department of Public Service in Arizona wanted to make a little boy suffering from childhood cancer happy in 1980. From that simple beginning, letting a little boy become a police officer for a day, a worldwide, now iconic, nonprofit was born. (founders’ video)

Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation has a similar founder’s story. A four-year-old girl–Alexandra Scott–suffering from childhood cancer asks if she can sell lemonade to get money for her doctors to make kids better. Her parents oblige and help with stands for the next four years. Word gets out of this little girl’s passion. When Alex passes away at age 8, her parents commit to activating lemonade stands everywhere to raise money for pediatric cancer research and families struggling with the cost of treating a child. Now “Lemonade Days”  and Alex’s lemonade stands can be found across the country.

The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp is also a story of a founder’s vision–but it’s also a celebrity story. Actor Paul Newman, always a Hollywood heartthrob, met a kid with cancer and realized how hard life was for a child undergoing treatment, living in hospitals, not able to take part in all the things kids do. With his wealth and his celebrity, but most of all his heart, he vowed to make it possible for even sick kids to be kids, to “kick back and raise a little hell.” And, with that The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, free to all, was founded in the Connecticut countryside and spawned the Serious Fun Children’s Network worldwide.

Crafting these stories to make them “tellable,” “memorable” and “relatable” is what a good storyteller does. And, as media changes, the storyteller needs to move them from one platform to another so they continue to resonate and be shared.

The next level: While these are powerful stories, sometimes, as the years go by, the telling needs to be freshened, and that’s the next step–building on the founder stories with powerful stories of the people the mission has touched. The story of a wish granted. The kids who continue to sell lemonade or are helped by the funds. The story of lives changed through a week at camp or the outreach services provided to them. The stories add variety and can reach different audiences–the advocate, fundraiser, donor and volunteer.

This is the essence of great mission storytelling–the mission’s power to change lives, one life, one moment at a time.

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