Every CEO, most board members, and many executives need to be able to describe the work of their organization in compelling, even emotionally stirring terms. This is vitally important to that organization’s success, though I sometimes encounter some within such organizations who do not recognize this fact. Fundraising, securing and building the workforce and culture, engaging clients or patients, and fulfilling the core mission all depend heavily upon this “storytelling of the mission” capability. I write about this in my book, but I’ll provide a few quick related thoughts on this topic here.
Not everyone is a naturally gifted storyteller, though in my experience most of us can become more effective with practice and a commitment to learning and improving.
Competition is very stiff for funding, employees, leadership, board members, and oftentimes patients or clients. The more skillful the presentation about the organization’s purpose, the better equipped that organization will be at securing these valuable resources.
So, what does effective storytelling entail?
Experts have much to say on this topic, but in the context of not-for-profit, mission driven organizations… I believe there are three important keys to success:
- Make it personal. Some leaders will describe the work of an organization in objective, third-party, distant seeming terms – as though they are describing what lies underneath a microscope on a glass slide or are outlining the plot of a movie. The best storytellers are excellent at providing their own personal connection without making the story all about them. Unfortunately, there are some leaders who will discuss the work of their organization in singularly self-oriented terms and people will easily pick up on that. Keep the ego in check.
- Make it matter. I believe most people feel better about their jobs, their volunteer opportunities, their financial beneficiaries… when the work feels consequential, impactful, and meaningful. Philosophers, theologians, and social scientist have written volumes on our search for meaning but the bottom line here is: people desire purpose, to be part of a winning team, to experience greatness in their lives. If you can talk about the work that takes place in your organization in a way that emphasizes this point, then you can powerfully touch this cord and create personal resonance.
- Make it succinct. This is the classic elevator speech thing. I have heard or watched mission moments that are complex, meandering, and confusing. Aim for quicker and more pointed hooks. Then, once engaged, go to town. But don’t lead with the entree. Start with a great appetizer.
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