If I had to narrow down my skill, intention and practice as a writer to one word, that word would be storytelling. Telling a story that connects the reader to the message and emotion I desire makes it good. Having that connection turn into some sort of action (most commonly donating time, money or attention to a cause), makes the story great. And it makes it a story worth telling again.
Simply put, storytelling is my job. In case you missed how that being my job makes me feel, check out my most recent Instagram post. In conversation the other day, talking about the difference between storytelling and exploiting, I experienced one of the most unintentionally inspiring moments in a while. Do you ever hear something you say and think “oh, so that’s how I really feel about ____”? This happens to me often. Maybe it’s a consequence of the rate at which I speak or the usual lack of filter before a fleeting thought becomes a statement I pronounce. For whatever reason, I gifted myself a new responsibility as a storyteller. One I am pretty sure I already held but will be sure to never disregard again.
To articulate my point, I am going to tell you one fictional story, in two different ways.
“Lucy grew up in a crime-ridden part of Chicago, sharing an apartment with another family whom her father knew from work. She lived in that home from age seven to 11, experiencing daily physical and sexual abuse at the hand of her father’s male coworker. She now finds safety at Made Up Youth Center where she works through that trauma and will be receiving a scholarship to attend Chicago University next fall. To help teens like Lucy, please consider a gift to Made Up Teen Center today.”
“Lucy has attended Made Up Youth Center since she was 11 years old. The counselor at her local school referred her to us, believing that it would be a great place for Lucy to find fun, safety and new experiences as she transitioned into middle school and out of an unsafe living arrangement. Thanks to our partnership with Made Up Music Center, Lucy learned to play the violin and she ended up sitting first chair in her middle school and high school orchestras. She is entering another transition this year, as she heads to Chicago University to study music therapy – hoping to eventually teach other individuals the power of music in times of need. By donating to Made Up Teen Center, we can continue finding avenues like we did with Lucy to make their days a little bit easier.”
Do you see the vast difference in those narratives? It is not my place to detail Lucy’s full story, even with her permission. You are aware of Lucy’s struggle in each case, but the second one much more eloquently shows the impact of positive relationships in Lucy’s life, something that most donors or people you are trying to reach can relate to more easily. If Lucy herself wanted to talk about how facing physical and sexual abuse has impacted her life, I feel that is her stage, not mine.
Especially as nonprofit professionals, it can be so tempting to share ALL the struggles, needs and shortcomings of your community. You think: “if everyone only knew the darkness ‘Lucy’ has been through, we would see an increase in revenue.” It’s a thought I have had, but it’s not something I did. I have sat on heartbreaking details in someone’s story (details I had permission to share) for the sake of better storytelling.
I know this isn’t a typical, whimsical blog post and that even though those stories are made up, they likely made you uncomfortable. The really uncomfortable part is that ones similar and ones worse happen in our communities.
So as the close of this post, I encourage you to translate this discomfort into good and donate $5 to a cause you believe right after you finish reading this. It can be an organization helping kids like “Lucy”, a local shelter keeping dogs safe, farmland preservation efforts in Nebraska or refugee protection in Afghanistan. Whatever speaks to your heart at this moment, act on it. Send screenshots of where you gave to firstname.lastname@example.org or post it on Instagram and tag @the.good.word.co. Let’s do good today!