Nothing raises interest in a good cause like telling a good story. And nothing tells a good story like the real-life people behind the real-life cause.
Bringing alive the names and the faces, both the smiles and the tears, can become the call to action that makes a difference for a nonprofit organization trying to build an enthusiastic base of support.
People love human interest.
Good storytelling can be entertaining. It can be enlightening. It also can inspire and motivate. Good storytelling can be a valuable tool for a nonprofit. And knowing the best way to approach it can be especially helpful.
Everyone Has a Story to Tell
As someone who writes often about cancer survivors – particularly malignant mesothelioma cancer survivors – my experience is that everyone has a story to tell. It’s merely a matter of offering the forum, then encouraging and convincing someone to tell it.
It’s about dealing with people who come in all shapes and sizes, all ages and interests. No two are alike, and no two have the same stories to tell. Make each one unique.
As a writer, the key to telling a good story is being a good listener. It’s not the questions you ask; it’s the responses you receive. It’s not about you; it’s about the person talking to you.
It starts with a willing subject, someone offering to share their story. It often is therapeutic for them, allowing them to share with the world what their life is about.
Make it a Conversation
A few tips:
- As part of the introduction, let the subject know exactly why you want to help them tell their story, and what your motivation is. Where will it appear and who will be reading it?
- Tell them how their story can help others. People generally like helping others.
- Establish a relationship with the subject before you ask any questions. Build some trust. Let them know something about you.
- Find out what they like to talk about, and what they want to tell.
- Try to make it a conversation, and not an interrogation.
- Ask them open-ended questions, and see where they go.
- You might want to record the conversation, and let them know why (accuracy).
- Ask them to describe themselves. What do they like? What do they do?
- Ask about their goals and what they are hoping their future will bring.
- Ask the person how they are feeling. Don’t assume you know. And don’t tell them you know how they are feeling, because you probably don’t.
- Tell them an encouraging story you may have heard about someone in a similar situation.
- If a topic makes them uncomfortable, switch topics quickly.
- They can use humor to explain their situation; you should not.
How Can This Help Your Cause
Remember, the story is in the details. Let them talk, then go back and ask for details later, allowing you to write a better story. Generally, don’t approach the story about how they got sick. It’s how they plan to get well.
It’s not always about what they’ve done. It’s often what they plan to do in the future. Remember the audience, and remember what you’re trying to accomplish with the story.
The preceding is a guest post by Tim Povtak is a senior writer for The Mesothelioma Center. He writes many of the stories on the Wall of Hope, detailing the paths of mesothelioma survivors in hopes of inspiring others who might follow. He also writes about the doctors treating these patients, the medical centers where they work and the news that develops among the mesothelioma community.