I want to share two stories with you, both of which are fiction, but could be real.
Story One – Debbie
I went to work yesterday and spent the first hour of my day going through emails and responding to the important ones. My work at the homeless shelter is rewarding, but somewhat frustrating. The 8 a.m. meeting about the $250,000 shortfall for the year went longer than expected, forcing me to re-schedule my 9:30 meeting for the following day. How are we supposed to raise that kind of money in just one month?
On my way back to my office, I had to walk through the housing area to get the latest tally on clothing donations and what was needed. I would need this list to send to all the local news outlets, and I also knew we were running low on canned goods. In the hallway I saw Rita and her little boy, Charlie coming my way. They were regulars here and I’d heard she was doing well with her job training. Rita smiled at me and said, “Hi!”, while Charlie limped over and gave me a big hug. It made me smile.
I got the information I needed, and headed back to the office. I spent 45 minutes updating my fundraising spreadsheets and re-calculating my projections. The numbers weren’t good, so I knew I would spend my afternoon in more meetings, trying to come up with strategies for getting the needed money.
Story Two – Rita
Charlie bounced into my bedroom yesterday morning…well, as much as kid with a bad leg can bounce. He had a big smile on his face.
“Mama, let’s go! We have to get to the center!”
Today was our weekly visit to the homeless shelter where we would pick up some food, and I would have my weekly computer class. While we were there, Charlie would get to spend time with his friends and get some help with his reading. He always looks forward to Wednesdays when we head to the center. We don’t get out much and it gives him a chance to socialize and really feel loved by others.
When we got to the center our first stop was the food pantry, where we could stock up for the week. Charlie wanted to make sure he could get some Spaghetti-O’s, which are his favorite. In the hall we bumped into Debbie who works in the office at the center. I greeted her, while Charlie sped up to give her a big hug. He always went out of his way to find her. She had once given him some extra candy at the center’s Halloween party, and he never forgot that.
As we moved on toward our destination, Charlie said, “Miss Debbie makes me so happy! I wanna be like her when I grow up. She’s so nice!”
When Charlie is happy like that, it makes the days so much better. We don’t have a lot of happiness in our lives, but Miss Debbie and the center really do make a difference.
If you work at a non-profit, which story are you telling?
The first story, Debbie’s story, is the one we get buried in on a day to day basis. It’s what we see, what we do. And when asked to tell our story, we look in the mirror, and just spit it out. But according to Dan Portnoy, that’s not the story we should be telling. In his book, The Non-Profit Narrative, Dan reminds us that our non-profits exist not to raise money, but to change the world.
In a very small way, Charlie and Rita’s world was changed, rocked even, by that chance encounter with Debbie from the first story. Those little moments, wrapped up in the larger work of the homeless shelter, will change both Charlie and Rita forever. The paths of their lives have been changed, and that’s a story that needs to be told. In fact, there’s yet another story; an alternate story for Debbie. If she would just open her eyes, that same encounter in the hallway can and will change her life. Not only is she the central character in her own story, but she has a supporting role in the stories of countless others. There are plenty of stories, all filled with important characters.
I continue to tell others about Dan’s book, because I think it’s an important work, and gets to the core of what we should be doing, both in the non-profit and the for-profit sectors. You can hear more from Dan in How Stories Can Save the World, a podcast he recently recorded with my friends at Brand Fast-Trackers, as he helps you identify the story that you should be telling.
How are you discovering and telling your story? Do you know which stories you should be telling, and which stories your audience wants to hear?
- Change Your Reality To Change Their Perceptions (joeystrawn.com)
- Identifying The Best B2B Social Practices (v3im.com)
- Things I Learned From Living in a Homeless Shelter. No. 6 (zenandtheartofborderlinemaintenance.com)
- Once Upon a Time: The Importance of Stories for Your Business (inklingmedia.net)