We Should All Be Better Storytellers

April 23, 2014

This post originally appeared on www.dailywrag.com.


As a grantmaker, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve formed an opinion about an organization after reading their proposal, only to change my mind during a site visit.

That’s probably because the language of grant applications can be sterile and bureaucratic. My changes of heart are most often sparked by leaders who are able to present their work as a compelling narrative that holds my attention, appeals to my emotions, and helps me identify with the organization and those it serves.

These conversions — from skeptical acquaintance to enthusiastic ally — have happened to me so often that I’ve become convinced that almost all nonprofits could engage more supporters and have a greater impact if only they were better at telling their stories. Many of my colleagues at Meyer share that conviction, which led us to launch a pilot program with Georgetown University’s Center for Social Impact Communication to build the storytelling capacity of the organizations our foundation supports.

The Meyer Foundation’s “Stories Worth Telling” initiative includes research on the storytelling practices of our grantees, a three-part training series, and a storytelling guide to be produced later this year. This work is part of a growing movement among grantmakers and nonprofits to harness the power of storytelling to drive social change. I believe in the importance of that work, which is why I’m so pleased that Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers has invited Paul VanDeCarr, author of Storytelling and Social Change: A Strategy Guide for Grantmakers, to speak on May 6 as part of the Brightest Minds series.

Powerful and moving narratives are among the most important tools for advancing a mission or cause. And although I began this post by talking about how nonprofits struggle as storytellers, the same (or worse) could be said about grantmakers. The truth is, we all need to become better storytellers, and I’m grateful for a growing number of opportunities to learn how.