Tell a Story on Giving Tuesday - 3 Tips Based on Storytelling from Sgt. Carol Adams

Picture from 

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Life as a consultant and writer rarely comes with the structure of a consistent 9 to 5 work schedule.  As a result, my commute times are unpredictable, which often means missing my weekly dose of StoryCorps on NPR.  In case you are unfamiliar, every week StoryCorps tells a 3-minute story about different types of personal relationships that show the power, triumph, and brokenness of humanity.  In Layman’s terms: StoryCorps makes me cry.  Until the day it didn’t. 

October 28th, I was headed to meet a few members of The Spark Mill team at The Byrd for the TedxRVAWomen conference.  I was excited my drive was timed perfectly to hear that week’s StoryCorps episode and began searching my glove box for the tissues in preparation.  Before I knew it, the 3-minutes was over and nary a tear had been shed.  I began to wonder if something was wrong with me?  Had my heart hardened?  Was I in a particularly awful mood that day?  I wasn't able to process my newfound inadequacies as a human, before we were off to TedxRVAWomen to hear…stories. 

Much to my heart’s relief a couple of presenters in, big crocodile tears streamed down my face – I wasn’t broken!  As the day went on, I laughed, I cried, and sometimes I remained unmoved.  Not surprisingly, the people around me had similar reactions, except often at different times.  When the day was over, I shared my StoryCorps experience with a co-worker, who informed me she had listened that morning, but she cried.  As we chatted about the episode, and our experience at the conference, I had what felt like a profound revelation but  was really just an obvious observation:  people emotionally respond to stories when we can personally relate to them.

Working for The Spark Mill has forever changed the way I view the world.  Sometimes I liken it to my high school AP English class - I've never been able to read a book the same since.  What does that color mean? Why did the author use that particular flower?  I now view the world with a strategic lens.  If people choose to volunteer/donate to organizations because the mission or the story speaks to them, how do organizations expand that circle?  They have to tell a story that speaks to people who aren't personally invested in their cause.  They have to tell a story that moves all of the people.

I mentioned how we all took turns weeping or cheering throughout the day, but there was one speaker, one, that brought the ENTIRE house to a sobbing standing ovation.  Sgt. Carol Adams.  She told a story that moved everyone, regardless of our personal connectivity, our hardened hearts, or our individual ideologies.  Her story was raw and honest.  It was well crafted, well spoken, and genuine.  Her story was personal.  She nailed it and left it all out there on that stage. 

I had to Google the StoryCorps episode to remember what it was about, but I vividly remember Sgt. Adams' story, and can still feel the emotion in the room a month later. As nonprofits around the world prepare to tell their stories on #GivingTuesday, I encourage them to craft stories that move people outside of their own board and stakeholders.  Tell a story that will inspire someone else to recount it weeks later in a blog.  Tell a story that will bring a theater full of strangers to their feet as tears stream down their face.

3 Tips Inspired by Carol

1.     What is your greatest memory concerning your organization? If I were to tell you about an organization I volunteer with, I would tell you their mission and what they do.  If I told you my favorite memory concerning the same organization, it would be about the way I felt that day, how the air smelled, who I was with, and why it was so special to me.  

2.     Don’t be afraid to cry.  Raw, honest, personal stories are emotional.  Members of The Spark Mill often recount their experience at a meeting with an organization, listening to a stakeholder tell their story, and looking around at everyone in tears – the board, the staff, the consultants, the storyteller.  We will never forget that day.  Ever.  

3.     Leave it all out there. When you tell a story about your organization, make it count. Every. Single. Time.  It takes the same amount of time to tell an awesome, authentic, personal, emotional story as it does to tell a bad one.