September 17, 2013

To Lead Change, Harness the Power of Story.


When your mind and heart are truly open abundance will flow to you effortlessly and easily.

by Jennifer McCrea and Jeffrey C. Walker authors of the book The Generosity Network

On some level, we all intuitively understand the power of story. Every skilled conversationalist knows that a colorful, vivid narrative—funny or moving, surprising or suspenseful—is the best way to attract and hold the attention of an audience.

And everyone who has ever tried to raise support for a worthy cause knows that “On my last trip to Kenya, I met a woman named Anindo . . .” is a much more effective way to capture someone’s attention than “Let me tell you about my nonprofit organization that works on . . .”

We all understand these realities about the power of story. And yet, as communicators, we still tend to neglect this simple but powerful technique for making human connections. When given the opportunity to reach out to potential friends and partners, most of us still lead with information about what our organization does, rather than with a story that shows why it matters.

Sylvia Ferrell-Jones is president and CEO of the YWCA Boston, a historic nonprofit organization with a proud record of “firsts”: the first YWCA in the United States, the first organization in Boston to tackle professional and economic empowerment for women, and among the first to fight for racial and gender equality. Today the Y’s programs train Boston-area students in leadership, promote community dialogues around issues such as racial justice, teach health and wellness skills to women and girls, and much more.

One of Ferrell-Jones’s biggest jobs, of course, is to attract support for the good work of the Y. In that effort, she is constantly encouraging her team members to expand their use of storytelling as a crucial tool for fund-raising and recruiting partners. “We sometimes use the word testimonials to describe the stories we share,” she explains, “but the key is that they are stories of impact—narratives that illustrate the power of our programs to create change, which is what donors are most interested in.”

One example: Ferrell-Jones often speaks about a group of teenagers who were out on the streets the night after a fatal shooting in their Boston neighborhood. Tensions were high. When the youngsters found themselves surrounded by a group of police officers who demanded their names and ordered them to lie flat on the ground, they quickly sensed that a single wrong move or ill-chosen word might lead to panic and perhaps to tragedy.
Suddenly one of the officers noticed that a youth spread-eagled on the pavement looked familiar. “Hey, don’t I know you?” he asked. It turned out that the teenager and the officer had met at a Youth/Police Dialogue organized by the YWCA. Having worked their way through the program together, they’d gotten to know and trust each other. “He’s okay,” the officer assured his colleagues as the teenager rose from the ground. The two young men talked through the situation and assumed leadership roles in deescalating the confrontation—perhaps saving a life or two in the process.

Sylvia Ferrell-Jones comments, “When we tell people that 41 percent of the young people who participate in our Youth/Police Dialogues are more likely to report a crime, they say, ‘That’s nice.’ But when we tell them a life-and-death story like the one about the confrontation on the street, then they really understand the value of our work.”
Millions of us have causes that are near and dear to our hearts—causes we’re eager and excited to share with the people we meet. To make those connections powerful, take a leaf from Ferrell-Jones’s book: express your passion through a story. It’s the single most effective way to communicate any important idea.

Find out more about the book The Generosity Network

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  1. Dahlis Roy

    Thank you again for 21 Day Meditation Challenge, Miraculous Relationships. I bought the Cd set with you and Oprah...Love and Life Changing for seated meditation nourishment every day~Namaste

  2. Dahlis Roy

    Color and Light~and LOVE Intent

  3. Brenda Jo Hocking


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