The Story That Changes the World

July 18, 2019 Craig Bowman

The Story That Changes the World

Cultivating your Stakeholders, Donors, and Volunteers

If you work or volunteer in a social profit organization*, part of your job is development. You may not have fundraising or marketing in your title, but our organizations depend upon investments of time, talent, and treasure; these are assets—relationships— that each of us can cultivate and share.

A part of our job must be to help our friends and family understand the impacts and outcomes of our work and create spaces for them to get involved.

Almost everyone wants to be a part of something bigger than themselves. People want to make a difference, be a part of a solution, change the world, and leave a legacy. And it’s passion that ignites that fire.

One of the best ways to stoke someone’s passion is through the art and practice of storytelling. Stories capture the essence of your organization’s mission in action.

If you can tap into your authenticity, you can use your own passion to move prospective supporters into powerful relationships with your program.

Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can’t remember who we are or why we’re here.

Sue Monk Kidd

Take a moment and think about your work. Think about the experiences you’ve had that captured your imagination. What have you experienced in your program that chokes you up, that makes you mad or hopeful, what is it that brings you to work every day with an unstoppable desire to do more for the people you serve?

This is the story you should tell. This is the one that will cause people to want to stand in the gap with you, investing and involving themselves in the amazing, life-changing work of your organization.

There’s no real formula for the process of developing this story. And you don’t even need to have experienced it firsthand. But you do need to have been close to it and it needs to have touched you, personally.

I suggest you find an hour or two where you can sit alone without interruption. Get yourself into a space where you can be reflective. Light a candle. Play some music. Think about why you do what you do.

Try to remember why you got involved in the first place. Think about those moments when the work is unbearably difficult — when you might be thinking about changing jobs — what keeps you there? What motivates you to tough it out?

Is there a person that comes to mind? A young person who said “thanks” one day? A kid whose life was a mess when she first came to your program and now is succeeding in ways previously unimaginable? Is it a volunteer whose commitment inspires you everyday? Is there a client whose life has been changed?

Make a few notes. Draw a picture. Let yourself feel the emotion you want to cultivate in the person you’ll be engaging.

The future belongs to a different kind of person with a different kind of mind: artists, inventors, storytellers-creative and holistic ‘right-brain’ thinkers.

Daniel Pink

When the story becomes clear (and it will), write it down and practice telling it. Practice in front of the mirror. Then in front of a colleague or two, maybe a young person or a senior, practice in front of your partner or your mom. Tell the story at church. Or on the bus.

Ask people for their feedback. You want this story to be moving. You want it to be powerful. You’re going for chills and goosebumps.

This means it needs to be brief — a few minutes at most. And you want to tell the story in a way that will move even you every time you tell it.

It can’t be phony. I don’t want you to pretend to cry. This isn’t about making people feel guilty or sorry for the people you’re working to help.

This is the real deal — heartfelt emotion turned into passionate commitment.

You don’t need to fake it. When it’s real, you’ll know it, and the people listening to you will know it, too.


* I use the term social profit, rather than non-profit or NGO, to emphasize the importance of our sector. Our work actively creates benefits for society, it adds value, and it generates a new kind of “profit.”

Craig Bowman

Craig has been shifting mindsets and inspiring social profit transformation in communities around the world for almost 30 years. He is the founder and president of Common Ground Consulting—a strategic consulting firm working globally to create spaces for people from diverse backgrounds and experiences to come together, build trust, define areas of shared and common interest, and achieve transformational, mission-critical goals.


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