Suggested Reading: "The Story Factor: Inspiration, Influence and Persuasion Through the Art of Storytelling"

Updated on August 26, 2017
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Sadie Holloway is a freelance writer and former non-profit executive with over 20 years of fundraising and marketing experience.

Annette Simmons' book is a must-read for non-profit leaders and social justice activists.

Non-profit leaders can boost their organization's success by mastering the art of storytelling. Annette Simmons' book The Story Factor: Inspiration, Influence, and Persuasion through the Art of Storytelling is a valuable resource in your fundraising and marketing toolbox.

Sustainable social change starts with a good story.

With information constantly being served up over the internet---in Twitter feeds and on blogs, Instagram, and Facebook---is it any wonder that those of us working to create positive social change feel overwhelmed and sometimes out-talked by all the online hype?

In the modern age of information overload, we need to find alternative ways to reach out to audiences if we want to be heard above all the noise cluttering up the World Wide Web. Stories can help us do that, suggests Annette Simmons in her book, The Story Factor: Inspiration, Influence, and Persuasion through the Art of Storytelling.

To stand out and get noticed, we have to rethink how we approach the way we share information with our audiences. Many marketers, corporations, and even charities and non-profits seem to believe that to influence people means feeding them endless streams of cutting-edge data.

If you were in the audience, what would you rather hear: dry, boring statistics or compelling personal stories that put a human face on urgent social issues?
If you were in the audience, what would you rather hear: dry, boring statistics or compelling personal stories that put a human face on urgent social issues?

Stating the facts, no matter how eye-opening they may be, is not enough to propel sustainable positive social change. As Simmons notes, “Facts aren’t influential until they mean something to someone.” People organize and interpret data based on how they already feel about certain issues. They instinctively filter facts through their own memories, emotional processes, and lived experiences.

Delivering facts alongside a story, on the other hand, can be highly effective in creating lasting change. Simmons says, “A story delivers a context so that your facts slide into new slots in your listeners’ brains. If you don’t give them a new story, they will simply slide new facts into old slots.” In other words, a series of objective facts will simply reaffirm people’s existing world views. Facts should be coupled with the delivery of a subjective story to have any meaningful, long-term impact.

One of the things I appreciated about Simmons' book is that she was able to deconstruct what it means to positively influence others. She shows us that there’s a vast difference between influential storytelling and pure manipulation. To influence another person or a group of people doesn’t necessarily mean manipulating them or coercing them to act in a certain way. Influencing an audience can happen more organically, and ethically, through storytelling.

A well-told, memorable story is a friendlier form of influence because it relies on truth, sincerity, and authenticity for impact. The audience is allowed---if not openly encouraged---to take the story away with them and contemplate its meaning long after “The End” has been uttered.

One of the most important things you can do when you are trying to make a difference in the world is to sit down and listen to other people's stories.
One of the most important things you can do when you are trying to make a difference in the world is to sit down and listen to other people's stories.

Sharing stories presents a wonderful opportunity to change perceptions in a safe, non-threatening way. Compelling stories:

  • Influence by reaching out and connecting with listeners on a personal level
  • Help audiences relate to the issue by conjuring up strong feelings of compassion, empathy, and hope
  • Encourage listeners to tap into their own inner wisdom to uncover new insights about old problems.

Storytelling is a natural fit for the charitable sector. Whether you’re a non-profit fundraiser, CEO, volunteer, or community-minded activist, you likely spend plenty of time (and money) creating websites, publishing brochures, producing public service announcements, and organizing awareness events. Storytelling complements all of those activities. When planning your next awareness campaign or fundraiser, ask yourself:

  • What story does our organization need our audience to hear?
  • How do we want this story to affect people? What actions do we hope they’ll take after hearing (or reading) this story?
  • In what ways will this story help our organization connect to our audience?

The most important question you need to ask is: Will the story we tell create a sense of hope and optimism for our audience? Hope is essential for positively influencing others. People must believe that taking action will actually mean something, that it will be worthwhile, and that it will make a difference.

© 2017 Sadie Holloway

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