3 Tips to Engage Volunteers Through The Power of Story
By: Jen Barth of Schoolhouse Supplies
“Tell me a fact and I’ll learn. Tell me a truth and I’ll believe.
But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.”
— Indian proverb
As the mom of two budding readers — my daughters are 5 —my life is full of stories, it seems. Storytelling also plays a key role in my professional and volunteer worlds; as a marketer, I’ve helped organizations create and communicate their stories for over a decade. Stories are also the inspiration behind Books Make it Better, a grassroots early literacy movement I co-founded after learning from Reach Out and Read that 2/3 of America’s children who live in poverty don’t have any books at home. But although we’re exposed to the notion of “story” since before we can read— or even speak — most of us forget the simple power that storytelling can play when it comes to rallying and engaging others to support the causes we champion.
Here are 3 tips to get you started….
When we’re passionate about a cause, it’s easy to get fired up — and caught up — in facts and figures when sharing our message. Unfortunately, most people don’t absorb information this way: a London School of Business study found that 5-10% of people retain information when you share it in a statistic format. If you add a story, 25-30% will retain it. But if you simply tell a story, the number increases to 65-70%.
The UN Foundation’s Shot@Life Campaign does a great job of engaging supporters through storytelling. Their blog shares many stories from the perspectives of moms around the world whose children aren’t surviving childhood due to lack of vaccine access. As a mom, I can relate to these stories far more than I can to stats — such as Felisa Hilbert’s post, “Safe for a Lifetime” which brings humanity, and a human face, to the growing global health crisis, and connects us all to the idea that we can play a role at giving kids in developing countries a shot at so much more than they are currently experiencing.
2. We Learn In Layers
Great stories are revealed over time, chapter by chapter. Many of us forget this when trying to introduce potential volunteers and supporters, and we try to get our entire message across all at once. This can be overwhelming, and confusing…and a lot of work! People engage based on a series of touchpoints and impressions —or chapters—that unfold over time.
The Mom Congress on Education & Learning blog is a great example; each week; they share stories from across the country on how to engage in the fight for better schools. As Oregon’s 2011 Delegate, I was honored to share my “chapter,” on “What’s Working in Oregon,” earlier this year, and I am inspired each week by the diversity that moms from across the country are bringing to local education reform when I read new updates. I share some other related tips in “Learn from me Please: 5 Tips for Social Change from the Branding Trenches, too.
Don’t forget the role that creative visuals can play in engaging your supporters! Research shows that people pay attention to — and believe — information more when accompanied with visuals. Some good examples include Mashable’s Social Good Ecosystem, Jumpstart’s Infographic of The Early Education Crisis, and Reusethisbag.com’s on the Importance of Recycling. I also love The Motherhood’s Charter, because it tells far more powerful a story about what this community stands for, and delivers, than a few paragraphs ever could.
Summing It Up…And Onto My Own Next Chapter!
I think Jon Winsor sums it up well in “The Power of Storytelling,” when he notes, “Stories are efficient. In today’s ADD society it isn’t possible to detail all of the data to scientifically prove your point. A story helps people take the leap of faith necessary to be inspired to take action.”
Isn’t that what we’re ultimately looking for when we engage current and potential volunteers to align around our mission?
And speaking of taking a leap…I’m thrilled to share that the next chapter in my own “story” is unfolding, too. I recently returned to my non-profit roots in a full-time role as Executive Director of Schoolhouse Supplies, in Portland, Oregon. I’ll be sharing more perspectives from our volunteer-run Free Store for Teachers, in an upcoming post. Stay tuned and until then…keep up your fantastic summers of service!
About the Author:
Jen Barth is Executive Director of Schoolhouse Supplies, an award-winning nonprofit in Portland, Oregon that serves classrooms in need by operating a volunteer-run Free Store for Teachers stocked with supplies donated by the community.
Prior to her role at Schoolhouse Supplies, Jen founded and ran Big Small Brands, an award-winning small business and nonprofit branding firm, and held senior leadership roles in several agency, corporate, and non-profit organizations. She also served as Oregon's 2011 delegate for The Mom Congress on Education and Learning, and founded Books Make it Better, a grassroots, mom-powered early literacy movement in partnership with Parenting Magazine. Jen is a Founding Member of The Mission List, a community of women dedicated to using social media for social good.
Jen is the proud mom of identical —yet nothing alike — twin daughters, who will be entering Kindergarten this Fall. They have been accompanying their mom on volunteer projects since the ripe old age of 2 ½.