Storytelling a Start to Engaging Action, not the End

Is storytelling enough? Is storytelling the peak engagement activity? If your organization is engaging supporters with good stories are you doing all you can for your people and issues? Storytelling is essential but it must tie tellers and readers together into a network that takes meaningful action.

Storytelling HereThat seems one possible conclusion that could be drawn from a recent post by Katya Andresen in which she discusses the “humanization highway” concept in Jay Baer and Amber Naslund’s book The Now Revolution. Baer and Naslund are describing responsive businesses with great customer service models. In their view (quite rightly, it seems) the more “human” an organization becomes the better service it provides. This leads to better, more loyal customers. A similar case could be made for nonprofits: interact with members and supporters on a personal, human level and you’ll have more active and engaged participants.

Baer and Nasulund lay out a five point continuum of “humanness” that places storytelling at the top. The full list is:

  1. Ignoring: You barrage your supporters with solicitations. You want their money, not a relationship. If a donor said something about your organization, you would have no idea.
  2. Listening: You ask donors for feedback, and you pay attention to what’s being said about you online.
  3. Responding: You respond to what you hear, answering questions, providing ideas, sending thanks.
  4. Participating: You are actively engaged, creating content and communicating issues that your donors value – rather than just self-promotional drivel.
  5. Storytelling: You are fully human, describing what’s going on at your organization and with your donors with engaging stories.

Perhaps it is because storytelling is increasingly used as an engagement tool by nonprofits – we talked about one example just last week – that we’re sensitive to its place on any engagement scale. But storytelling at the top of the continuum here doesn’t feel right.

Storytelling seems a good number five but only if the scale were to go higher. People DO want to hear personal and engaging stories about the work of your organization, particularly if they can place themselves in the story. How did staff and supporters work together to change a law or provide shelter or clean up a park? Those could be great stories.

But we need to go farther and more actively provide opportunity for supporters to engage in the actions that create the stories – and not just tell or ask for stories.

The complex political and social issues of our times need better stories. But they need much MUCH more. Organizations need to engage activists, constituents, donors, fans, followers, members and others to become the eyes, ears and voices for their issues. Stories need to be clear, compelling and transformative but organizations also need to open up avenues for participation that don’t often exist. No matter how big your staff is they can’t do it alone and link-clicking, tweeting and FB liking are not sufficient.

Take this humanization highway seriously. It is a great start. But it is just a start and think hard about what the next steps would be in your organization.

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