Building Empathy and a Shared Vision Through Authentic Storytelling

by Miriam April 4, 2023

Storytelling is a powerful tool for driving change. Stories have the ability to challenge existing attitudes, inspire, engage, and mobilize people toward action. 

For organizations using a systems change approach to tackling complex problems, engaging people and organizations across the system to work towards a common goal can be a significant challenge. Storytelling can help to bridge divides by providing a common language and narrative that everyone can relate to. Stories can also help to create empathy and understanding between stakeholders and build a shared vision for change. 

In our recent publication, Stories of Change, readers get a unique look at what’s possible when many individuals, organizations, and initiatives adopt a shared approach to affecting positive change and align their efforts to address the upstream sources of our toughest community challenges. Full of actionable insights, the stories are an informative example of purpose-driven collaboration and a source of hope in an unpredictable, fast-changing world.

Similarly, with so many organizations vying for attention and support, it can be difficult for an organization to stand out and convey the importance of its work in a way that resonates with potential donors, volunteers, and stakeholders. Storytelling can be a useful tool for nonprofits to communicate their mission and inspire action. However, telling a compelling and relatable story requires a deep understanding of the organization's purpose, impact, and the people it serves.

When it comes to storytelling in the context of a nonprofit organization, it's essential to include the voices of those whose stories you are telling. This approach not only adds authenticity to the story, but incorporating the voices and perspectives of those with lived experience demonstrates a deep respect for their knowledge and lived experiences. 

One great example of this is the Traverse Area Historical Society’s Kchi Wiikwedong Anishinaabe History Project, which aims to provide a more comprehensive and accurate depiction of the history of Traverse City and the greater region around Grand Traverse Bay. Emily Modrall, the project’s coordinator, highlights the importance of including the voice of the Anishinaabe people in the telling of their history. She notes that the traditional accounts of the city's history often leave out the presence and perspective of the Anishinaabe people who have lived there for centuries. 

“Up until the 1970s or so, the written record of the Kchi Wiikwedong Anishinaabec was almost exclusively the work of non-Anishinaabe people, predominantly white European Americans, governments, churches, armchair historians, and other observers,” said Modrall during a presentation on her research. “Now, in 2022, we know how important it is to put that version of history in its proper place and to understand its limits.”

By valuing the lived experiences of individuals and communities, storytelling becomes an opportunity for mutual learning, understanding, and collaboration. It also helps to counter the dominant narratives that have historically excluded or misrepresented marginalized communities. 

By using stories to build empathy, understanding, and shared vision, we can engage people and organizations across the system in the process of creating lasting change and build more inclusive communities where everyone has the opportunity to thrive. So, how can storytelling be used as a communications and engagement strategy in your own work?

Register now for our Storytelling Frameworks workshop on April 20, 2023 and be prepared to transform the way you communicate your mission and vision!

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