Don’t be Fooled By Stories

Stories pervade our lives. As human beings we gravitate to stories. Are motivated by stories. We orient ourselves in the world by the stories we tell. Stories move us in ways that nothing else does. It’s why so many of the decisions we make are based on story.

In the nonprofit sector we too utilize story. We put them in our annual reports and email appeals. We work to get “our story” in articles and featured on the news. In fact, I believe that stories are the primary way nonprofits compete with one another.

Now this isn’t necessarily a problem, except for the fact that the stories organizations choose to tell about themselves are not always representative of their actual work. When looking for a story to put in the annual report or to feature at the next gala, most organizations don’t look for the average constituent experience but one that went particularly well. They naturally want to put their best feet forward.

The problem of our non-representative stories arise because there is often nothing else to counterbalance them. For most donors, all they hear are the stories and they get very little additional information about the organization’s actual impact. So they make their funding decisions based upon stories, not the actual work of the organization.

This has lead to a Story Arms Race in the nonprofit sector. Each organization seeking to outdo one another’s story. This means more money flows to the best story tellers, not the organizations that are actually creating the most change.

Funders must learn to scratch beneath the surface of the stories they are being told and nonprofits must go beyond the story and find ways to transparently communicate their impact. Then we will see funding flowing not just to the best story but to the most impact.

Don’t forget to check out Andrew’s webinar: Don’t be Fooled by Stories on Tuesday, January 31 at 2:00 P.M. Register Now!

Andrew Means

Andrew Means is Head of beyond.uptake the philanthropic and civic innovation arm of Uptake and Co-Founder at The Impact Lab. He has dedicated his career to creating a more effective and efficient social sector by developing data tools that help organizations improve their impact. Tweet Andrew using: @meansandrew