You Are Not the Hero
Featured post by Kate Berkey
My boss stared at me with that look I’d come to know as a mix of confusion, skepticism, and maybe a little bit of cynicism, so I repeated myself again.
“We’re not the hero of the story. You’re not the hero of the story. Our organization is not the hero of the story,” I said.
We had gotten into it again after what seemed like the hundredth time of talking about something we would inevitably disagree on. This time, it was about storytelling. As a writer and communicator who’s worked with various nonprofits for almost ten years, I walked in naively confident. I quickly learned what happens when you tell the founder that his organization is not the hero.
Most of us have things we’ve seen from fragile idea to thriving operation, or maybe more accurately, most of us are somewhere on that spectrum. Either way, this thing we’re building is a bit like our baby. We fight for it, work insane hours for it, and protect it at all costs. It’s admirable to be this invested in an idea or cause, but you, your organization, or your idea are not the hero of the story. Until we can communicate clearly to the real heroes of the story, our messaging and efforts will always fall flat.
As nonprofits, it’s essential to communicate effectively to our partners. This means donors, ambassadors, those we serve, and more. Everyone your organization interacts with is a partner or potential partner, and they’re dying to hear a good story. All of us are. And in this story, they long to see how the underdog wins, how a problem is solved, and how they—your vital partner—is part of transforming lives and our world. It’s hard to see that when you or your organization take center stage.
In his book, Building a StoryBrand, Donald Miller talks extensively about these ideas. As champions of our cause, our job is to clarify our message, open and close a story loop, and help our partners see how they are the true hero of the story. We’re just a guide on the journey. When we do this well, our partners have a clear vision of our work, a role in the mission, and greater involvement in supporting our cause. Without this clarity, we find confusion, mediocre financial support, and silent ambassadors for our organization.
So how can your team clearly and effectively communicate story well to your partners and those you serve?
- Map your story: I think Donald Miller and his team are up to something big at StoryBrand, and his book, Building a StoryBrand could be the most important book you read this year. Grab a copy or create a free BrandScript using their free online teaching and tools.
- Rethink the hero: Remember, it’s not you, your organization, or your three-step method to end world hunger. In all your communication, ask yourself who the real hero is. Each platform—social media, email, direct mail, etc—has a different flavor, but they all tell a similar story. That story celebrates the hero.
- Create a compelling one liner: Sometimes we get trapped in the idea that our communication must be quippy or clever. I once worked with an organization that said they “facilitate synergy and connection between a variety of programs, projects, and initiatives.” I love this organization. I even worked for them. But I have no idea what that means or why it’s compelling. What does your team do in its simplest form? Partners and potential partners want to know, and they want to know without putting in a lot of effort.
- Prioritize compelling storytelling: As a writer who has worked with nonprofits from a church in the Midwest to training centers in Thailand to refugees in Chicago, I understand the challenge it is to get the work done. When budgets are tight and teams are small, communication often falls off people’s plates. I mean, who cares about posting consistently on social media when families can’t buy food or a war is forcing children to sleep in the jungles of Myanmar? Here’s the thing. Your partners care. Those who want to support you and champion your cause are eager to hear stories of impact and transformation. They want to know the need, because they want to be a hero to someone, even if it’s just one person they may never meet.
- Bring in a freelance storyteller: Not everyone can afford to have a writer on staff, and not every writing staff can finish all the projects on their to-do lists. Hiring a freelance writer saves you major donor and grant funded dollars and could be the right move to bring in more financial support than before. Find a freelance storyteller who cares about your cause, fits with your culture, and understands effective communication.
I recently helped a nonprofit establish a presence on social media for the first time in their 30 years of existence. Because of the work we put into it, partners and potential partners finally started to understand the scope of what they do. They got a glimpse of how they could be part of it, and they started to envision themselves as a vital piece to the important work this organization was doing. They became the hero.
When we can establish partnerships like this, we can effectively transform lives and our world for generations to come.