Statistics: The dementors of your nonprofit’s story

Posted on October 17, 2011. Filed under: Good Ideas Stick, Tips for HandsOn Partners | Tags: |

From Katya’s Non-Profit Marketing Blog, http://www.nonprofitmarketingblog.com

The most important advice I can give you as a storyteller for your cause is to put a single living creature – not a statistic – at the heart of your story.

To borrow an image from a very accomplished storyteller – JK Rowling of Harry Potter fame – statistics are the dementors of your nonprofit’s story. For those of you who haven’t read the books or seen the movies, dementors are the horrific monsters that suck the souls and happy emotion out of people with a deathly kiss.

If your story stars a statistic, it will suck out the soul of your cause and wring the emotion out of your story. All that will be left is a dry, depressing shell with no heartbeat.

After making this point in a speech last week, a lovely person from a DC-based nonprofit came up to me and said: “But our statistics are so convincing! A third of children in Washington live in poverty. That’s surely the best place to begin a story.”

I said something like this: That is a very sad statistic, but it’s not a story. It’s a fact looking for a person. I encouraged her to tell the story of one child they have helped. Let’s call him Peter. Paint a vivid portrait of all Peter has faced and how the organization has given him the gift of reading and a shot at a future that wasn’t possible before. Then make the point that for every group of three children in Washington, there is one Peter. People will feel that in a way they will never feel 36%.

Numbers aren’t inherently bad, but they aren’t the place to start or end your story. You have to bring forward the living beings behind the stats to forge a true connection. Tell a good story so the facts truly matter.

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