Jane Bailey Bain: Telling a good story can help to change the world

The writer and executive coach says we need to share stories with our intended beneficiaries

Jane Bailey Bain
Jane Bailey Bain

I worked as an adviser on overseas aid projects. It was a great job, especially at dinner parties. "I help poor women in developing countries." "How wonderful!"

Jobs in the third sector pay well. We're rich in terms of comradeship, enthusiasm and goodwill, and we're happy to spend time and energy on our work. But we're not always generous about sharing our stories. Stories are big business right now. Tap #storytelling into Twitter and you'll see posts on leadership, marketing and brand development. You're programmed to respond to a good story – humans evolved to learn through narrative. When you hear a story, your brain lights up as though you were really there.

Charities and non-profits can draw on the power of story too. Think about this in business terms. Brand development? You need to appeal to donors, whose generosity you cannot take for granted. In return, they get to feel good about themselves. They pay to be part of your story. Marketing? That's like persuading people to take part in your project. Recipients can be hard to please, especially if we haven't asked what they actually want. We need to share stories with our intended beneficiaries – this can also help to define the objectives.

Leadership? Volunteers might be cannon fodder for the photocopier, but they get as bored as you would. "I'm helping at Save the Goldfish. It's a good cause, but sometimes I feel fed up." Tell them stories that bring your mission to life. Give them a tagline or key message to share. Want to change the world? Learn to follow the storytelling creed.

Jane Bailey Bain is a writer, anthropologist and executive coach. Her book StoryWorks is a practical handbook on how to tell stories

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